Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2012-2013

purple mat, Nama demissum
Photograph of flower of Nama demissum, purple mat
Phacelia minor, wild Canterbury bells; and Emmenanthe penduliflora, whispering bells
Photograph of Phacelia minor, wild Canterbury bells; and Emmenanthe penduliflora, whispering bells
Pictures taken on 5 March 2013. Left: Photograph of one of the few plants of Nama demissum, purple mat, from Glorietta Canyon. Right: Photograph of typical small plants of Phacelia minor, wild Canterbury bells; and Emmenanthe penduliflora, whispering bells, from the S22 Roadside at the top of the Montezuma Grade. Note the pen for scale.

See also Pictures shown here on prior dates.

See Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert for an introduction to this page, extensive general information (not specific to this year) about Annual Germination, Growth and Blooms, including what influences the duration and extent of the annual bloom, photo galleries, and links to other webpages giving information on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms.

Summary of Annual Germination, Growth and Blooms in 2012-2013

The Borrego Desert is now at or close to peak bloom in the portion that is at about 500 to 1200 feet elevation, at least in the canyons and washes at the north base of the mountain chain extending from Glorietta Canyon and nearby canyons on the northwest end of Pinyon / Yaqui Ridge, to Sunset Mountain, Harper Canyon and the Elephant Tree Area, on the south side of the Borrego Valley.

The north-facing canyons of the mountains are the favored location in this dry year since they have less moisture loss, and their washes received significantly more rainfall than the open desert, both from rainfall and from canyon side runoff. But their surrounding hillsides generally look dry and barren (see picture of a hillside near the bottom of the Montezuma Grade taken on 5 March 2013; none of those Encelia farinosa, brittlebushes, are going to bloom this year).

The bloom has turned out to be not as bad as we thought it was going to be, as long as one is in the favored area mentioned above. On 5 March 2013 we observed over 1,742 plants of 52 species in bloom. Although this is the lowest of the last five years in which we've been keeping track of the bloom numerically, it is not terribly far away from the typical 2,500 plants of 80 species in bloom of a normal year. We were quite pleased by the blooms we saw on that trip! See plots of the number of plants in bloom for a detailed comparison of this year to past years.

There are four main annual species producing large numbers of bloom in some favored places: Phacelia distans, common phacelia; Pholistoma membranaceum, white fiesta flower; Eschscholzia minutiflora, small-flowered poppy; and Emmenanthe penduliflora, whispering bells. Some areas have a significant number of other species, such as Amsinckia intermedia, fiddleneck, and Camissonia claviformis ssp. peirsonii, brown-eyed evening primrose (whose blooms are mostly closed during mid-day).

There are very few blooms in the open low desert, such as the area immediately around the Visitor Center outside the planted area, or on hillsides anyplace in the low desert. We don't expect any significant blooms to come from the vast majority of those areas this year.

Most of these blooms are not roadside blooms; you have to get out of your car and explore the canyons and washes on foot, looking mostly for tiny plants in bloom.

At higher elevations, there are scattered blooms from the first species in south-facing favored areas at elevations of 2500 feet. Nothing is happening yet at 4000 feet in the area near Ranchita, but there is good germination of a number of native annuals there.

There are starting to be some flowers visible from the car driving down the Montezuma Grade, almost entirely from plants right along the roadside that received extra water from road runoff. On 5 March 2013 we saw ~70 plants of Encelia farinosa, brittlebush; 25 Larrea tridentata, creosote; and 3 Fouquieria splendens, ocotillo, in bloom along the grade (noted while driving, mostly by the passenger), with about 30 Justicia californica, chuparosa, plants in bloom at the bottom, including some beautiful individual plants.

On our trip to the Elephant Tree Natural Area on 22 February 2013, we found at least 987 plants of 39 species in bloom on this part of our trip! (See the list of species in bloom there.) Although this is much lower than seen there on trips in previous year, we had no complaints about the number of plants in flower, perhaps because our expectations for this year were so low.

For comparison, three years ago, on 4 March 2010 in the same area, we saw at least 4,000 plants of 80 species in bloom, with many species having thousands of individuals in bloom, far beyond the limit of 99 per species used in computing the total number of plants in bloom.

Not every year can be a better-than-average bloom year, no matter how much we'd like that to be the case.

See also:

Predictions for This Year

Peak bloom this year is likely to be short. Temperatures are predicted to soar to 90° in Borrego Springs on 3/13/13, which may quickly end the annual bloom at low elevations in this poor-rainfall season. Peak bloom at higher elevations is yet to come. Peak bloom may be relatively better at higher elevations than peak bloom at lower elevations this year.

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Copyright © 2008-2013 by Tom Chester, Kate Harper, and Mike Crouse.
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Updated 8 March 2013