Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: Detailed Observations From Each Hike in 2012-2013

See also Detailed Germination, Growth and Bloom Reports From Each Hike in 2011-2012, 2010-2011 and 2009-2010.

10/10/12: SR78, S2, Fish Creek. The main purpose of this trip was to see the effects of the 10-15 foot wall of water that coursed down Fish Creek, both for the erosion and/or deposition of sediments, and for the resulting stimulation of the bloom there. We also traveled fairly widely elsewhere to investigate the state of the monsoonal blooms.

We found that the 2012 summer monsoon was very active in the entire desert, and germinated monsoonal annuals nearly everywhere. However, the continuous 100° plus heat every single day in August and September 2012 had ended the bloom for most of the annuals at elevations of ~2000 feet and below. Locations where we observed abundant mostly-dead annuals were: just west of Scissors Crossing; Split Mountain Road near Fish Creek; four miles south of Scissors Crossing; and Smuggler Wash.

At Split Mountain Road near Fish Creek, some perennials like Allionia incarnata, trailing four o'clock, was still in good bloom, despite the elevation of just 200 feet.

In contrast, Sentenac Gorge (SR78 below Scissors Crossing) was ablaze with blooms from Viguiera parishii, Parish's goldeneye. The hillsides there are yellow from it now.

On our entire trip, we found over 1,000 plants of 54 species in bloom! This is the largest number of species in bloom that we've ever recorded at this time of year. The previous record was 47 species in bloom on 11/7/2011.

10/15/12: Culp Valley, Wilson Trail. It was extremely depressing to find that essentially all of Culp Valley burned in the August 2012 fires, and that the monsoonal rain resulted in no regrowth or monsoonal annual germination. This area is like a moonscape, with essentially nothing looking alive. On the Jasper and Wilson Trails, and Old Culp Valley Road, we saw a grand total of just five species in bloom, with just a few specimens of each. We aborted our trip after 1.5 miles of monotony, and went to the PCT for the rest of the day.

Of course, this might be an entirely different story in the spring. But for now, essentially every place in the burn area looks the same. For representative pictures, see the pictures at the park entrance on the Ranchita side on S22 and on the Wilson Trail.

12/2/12: Turkey Track, Horse Canyon, White Wash. This unburned area at 2900 feet elevation and above was a delightful contrast to the Culp Valley burn area. Plants were alive and looking good, and there were abundant blooms from a few species in the wash, blackbanded rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus paniculatus; and scale-broom, Lepidospartum squamatum. Below 3000 feet elevation, we saw over 380 plants of 13 species in bloom.

12/7/12: Turkey Track, Horse Canyon, White Wash. We covered the same ground below 3000 feet elevation, hiking to higher elevation in White Wash.

12/12/12: S2, SR78, S3, Plum Canyon. This driving route continues to have a decent number of species in bloom, at least for this time of year, and Plum Canyon also has a number of species in bloom. On our entire trip, we saw over 372 plants of 37 species in bloom. The desert apricot, Prunus fremontii, in Plum Canyon is fully leafed out from the monsoonal rain, and so is looking much better than it normally does at this time of year.

12/16/12: S2, SR78, S3, Sweeney Canyon. We saw no blooms at all in Sweeney Canyon, and just four plants in bloom of Spanish needle, Palafoxia arida, at the roadside in Sweeney Pass. On our entire trip, we saw only 93 plants of 16 species in bloom.

However, Sweeney Canyon had received enough water recently that the creek had evidence of recent running water in it, and the creekbed sand was wet in many places.

12/18/12: El Centro / Ocotillo area. Mike Crouse reports that he found ten species in bloom, including every plant of Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi. He also saw a small amount of annual germination in a few places in washes.

12/21/12: S2, Sentenac Cienega Area, Plum Canyon. The S2 roadside was actually muddy in places, and that was the only place any significant annual germination was observed. Even that was pretty pathetic. Outside that area we essentially saw no annual germination at all, except for a few scattered plants of redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium. Altogether we saw only a minimum of 73 plants of 18 species in bloom, the lowest total of plants in bloom this year so far.

12/28/12: S2, SR78, Plum Canyon area. No annual germination was observed anywhere on our 7 mile loop hike in the canyons immediately east of Plum Canyon, except for a few scattered plants of redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, and a handful of Emory's rock-daisy, Perityle emoryi, in one spot deep in a canyon. Amazingly, two of the Perityle plants had their first flower in bloom.

The indefatigable almost-always-blooming chuparosa, Justicia californica, was putting on a good show, with over 100 plants observed in bloom. But it was accompanied by only a handful of plants of other species in bloom. Altogether we saw over 124 plants of 15 species in bloom.

1/2/13: S2, SR78, Plum Canyon area. No change from 12/28/12. On this trip, I saw over 133 plants in bloom of 12 species.

1/8/13: S2, SR78, Lower Sentenac Canyon / Upper San Felipe Wash. Although very little germination was seen, the bottom of Sentenac Canyon is wet in many places, and so should produce some germination when the weather warms up. The most exciting annual germination was a handful of white fiesta flowers, Pholistoma membranaceum, in one spot, producing their first true leaves. We spotted a few Cryptantha and Rafinesquia seedlings in one other spot. We saw a total of over 123 plants of 23 species in bloom on this entire trip.

1/12/13: S22, Henderson Canyon. It was shocking to drive the Montezuma Grade of S22 for the first time this year, and find that the plants still mostly look like they do in late summer, completely dormant. That area normally is rich with blooms, even at this time of year. But we found literally only a handful of plants with any blooms at all.

Henderson Canyon looked the same, except we were pleasantly surprised to find scattered babies of whispering bells, Emmenanthe penduliflora, just producing their first true leaves, in the main wash. We were even more surprised to see hundreds of plants of white fiesta flower, Pholistoma auritum var. arizonicum, also producing their first true leaves, in shady spots under boulders in the upper canyon. If we get at least a bit of more rain, those plants will produce some blooms to enjoy, even if no further germination occurs.

This trip had the lowest numer of flowers observed so far this season, a total of just 38 plants of 9 species in bloom.

1/17/13: Upper Tubb Canyon / Big Spring. Areas with water are the places to be in this drought year in the desert, and the Big Spring branch of Tubb Canyon has water in abundance. But we never expected inch thick sheets of ice here! The ice was found only in one area, but it was surprising it was present at all, especially with that thickness. The temperature was in the 60s now, but there had been about a week of sub-freezing temperatures at night which obviously was enough to do this. Cold temperatures like this bring plant growth to a near standstill.

This area had been burned in the lightning-caused August 2012 fire, and there were numerous Datura wrightii plants that probably grew after the monsoonal rains. Most of them were hit by the frosts and looked quite unhappy. However, we found one specimen that had a striking mostly-purple flower in good shape.

Plants looked pretty happy overall in the area of the creek, which has water flowing for over a half mile. But the area outside the creek looked like everyplace else, with plants mostly looking in summer dormancy. We did see a total of ten shoots of blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum coming up in two spots, and ~75 white fiesta flower, Pholistoma auritum var. arizonicum, scattered throughout our hike.

Altogether, we spotted just 62 plants of 25 species in bloom.

1/22/13: S2, SR78, Upper San Felipe Wash - Plum Canyon to Yaqui Well.

Altogether, we spotted just 87 plants of 8 species in bloom.

1/27/13: S22, Glorietta Canyon, Wash, and canyon to southwest. Everything still looked very dry and dormant on Montezuma Grade, and only chuparosa provided any significant number of flowers in the Glorietta Canyon Area. However, there was decent germination in the washes and better germination in the canyon to the south of the entrance to Glorietta Canyon. Conditions were moist enough there that we also picked up several ticks on us, which greatly surprised us.

Altogether, we spotted just 36 plants of 11 species in bloom.

2/1/13: S22, "Salazaria Canyon" southeast of Glorietta Canyon. The germination was very good in this Canyon as well.

Altogether, we spotted just 84 plants of 11 species in bloom.

2/5/13: S22, Salazaria Canyon and ridge near Glorietta Canyon / Yaqui Peak. Some plants immediately along the highway have greened up, and the number of plants in bloom of Encelia farinosa, brittlebush, finally has begun to increase, but only to 13 plants in bloom from 5. The hillsides still look dry, drab and dormant. The half inch of rain on 25 January 2013 has only visibly affected the plants along the roadway edges where there was runoff from the road.

Altogether, we spotted 127 plants of 15 species in bloom.

2/9/13: Inspiration Wash / Fonts Point Wash. Sadly, there were only two plants in bloom TOTAL, both of Xylorhiza_orcuttii, Orcutt's woody-aster.

2/10/13: Fish Creek. Although the blooms were still few in number, we saw eight species in bloom here we hadn't yet seen elsewhere. Altogether, we spotted 72 plants of 21 species in bloom.

2/11/13: S22, Glorietta Canyon. Plants continue to get a bit greener on the S22 roadsides in the Montezuma Grade, and the plants in some places on the hillsides look a tad less parched. Many of the ocotillos now have leaves, so there may be flowers to come. But other plants in most areas on the hillsides still look very dormant.

We saw two germination classes in the Glorietta Canyon area, and enough annuals in the Glorietta Canyon area to expect at least some annual blooms, from three main species: whispering bells, Emmenanthe penduliflora; white fiesta flower, Pholistoma auritum var. arizonicum; and common phacelia, Phacelia distans.

Altogether, though, the bloom is still pathetic for this time of year. We saw just 123 plants of 7 species in bloom, with 99 of those plants chuparosa.

2/15/13: S2, SR78, S3, area northwest of Yaqui Pass. When we got out of the car just north of Yaqui Pass, we were stunned to see lots of annuals, most not yet in bloom, in the wash. There were abundant non-blooming plants of Phacelia distans and Phacelia crenulata minutiflora. There were even a handful of plants of Cryptantha maritima in bloom! We even found a few annuals that had germinated on the dry-looking hillside, such as Chaenactis carphoclinia.

The germination was much better about 0.75 miles due west from S3, when all of a sudden the germination went from fairly sparse outside the washlets to widespread. There were fields of Chaenactis fremontii, in many places dense with young plants.

Overall on this entire trip we found over 315 plants of 15 species in bloom.

2/21/13: S2, SR78, Elephant Tree Natural Area. In this year when expectations were low, we were quite pleased at the number of species we found in bloom. Altogether, we found at least 987 plants of 39 species in bloom on this part of our trip! See the list of species in bloom here.

That ain't bad for an extremely-low rainfall year. While this is only a fraction of the number of plants we saw in bloom on 4 March 2010 here, it is still a very pleasing number. This is especially the case since until a month or two ago, we thought we'd see no annuals at all this year anywhere.

In fact, we are quite stunned at how good the bloom is here given the pathetic rainfall.

For comparison, on 4 March 2010 we saw at least 4,000 plants of 80 species here in bloom. That year had about twice the number of species in bloom at roughly the same time of year.

Nominally, that year had four times the number of plants in bloom using my system where no species contributes more than 99 plants to the bloom totals. However, this method underestimates just how much better the bloom was on 4 March 2010, since in that year, there were thousands of plants of many species in bloom. In contrast, very few species had more actual plants in bloom than the 99 max on 2/21/13.

One extremely interesting thing about the bloom here is that every single species in bloom is native except for a single one, Brassica tournefortii. And since we pulled up every plant we saw of it, about 500 plants total, there actually aren't any plants of it along our hiking route right now that are rooted in the ground. (;-) Every plant with baby fruit on it was removed from the area entirely.

In particular, there are no plants of Erodium cicutarium, blooming or not; no plants of any non-native grasses like Bromus madritensis rubens; no plants of Chenopodium murale, or any other non-native plant along the route we hiked yesterday.

Overall, including blooms along SR78, we found over 1,024 plants of 43 species in bloom.

2/25/13: S2, Carrizo Creek.

Overall, including blooms along S2, we found over 285 plants of 23 species in bloom.

3/1/13: S2, SR78, Grapevine Canyon Road.

Overall, including blooms along S2 and SR78, we found over 594 plants of 36 species in bloom.

3/5/13: S22, Visitor Center, Glorietta Canyon. Adrienne Ballwey and I stopped at the western entrance of ABDSP just east of Ranchita at about 4200 feet elevation, and found a significant number of native annuals amidst the dominant non-native annual grasses and Erodium. There will be some good flowers here in the future, but not anytime soon.

We stopped at the first turnout on the right going down the Montezuma grade since we had seen a bunch of small yellow flowers along the side of the road that we thought might be ). This is just before S22 curves north. The turnout overlooks the uppermost part of Culp Canyon, at 2560 feet elevation.

When we got out, we were very disappointed to see that the plants with small yellow flowers were small plants of Brassica tournefortii, all less than a foot high. There were a handful of other plants in bloom on this side of the road, nothing much. Since we were here, we went to the other (dangerous) side of the road, a south-facing slope, and were stunned to see a lot of tiny species in bloom along the roadside!

Most notable were 25 plants of Phacelia minor in bloom, a species we don't recall seeing here before. They were accompanied by 15 plants of Emmenanthe in bloom, another species we didn't recall seeing here before. There were 30 plants of Lotus strigosus (=Acmispon strigosus) and 10 plants of Cryptantha intermedia in bloom as well.

At some point while we were observing these plants it dawned on Tom that these were all fire-followers! Even though this particular area didn't burn, it was right next to the Culp Valley burn area, so got a lot of smoke, and maybe some heat.

All together, we recorded 19 species in bloom at this one spot. Yet if you looked at this spot from the turnout, you wouldn't guess there were ANY species in bloom here! All the annuals were tiny. most of the Phacelia minor were no taller than Erodium cicutarium (pictures)!

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.

However, the hillsides along the Grade 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

Glorietta Wash, just south of Glorietta Canyon, like many of the canyons and washes on the south side of the Borrego Valley, looked pretty good, with hundreds of plants each in bloom of Phacelia distans, common phacelia; Pholistoma membranaceum, white fiesta flower; Eschscholzia minutiflora, small-flowered poppy; Emmenanthe penduliflora, whispering bells; and Amsinckia intermedia, fiddleneck. On our hike up the wash, we noted only about 20 plants of Camissonia claviformis ssp. peirsonii, brown-eyed evening primrose in bloom. But on our hike down, near sunset, there were well over 100 plants in bloom, since the blooms of this plant open near dusk and close near mid-day.

Overall, including blooms along S22, we found over 1,742 plants of 52 species in bloom. Individually, we saw over 458 plants of 24 species in bloom on S22 along the Montezuma Grade, and over 1,358 plants of 37 species in bloom in Glorietta Wash and the canyon above it.

Pictures From Each Hike

See Photo Gallery of Desert Species Observed in Bloom for photographs organized by flower color. The date and location of each picture are given in that table.

Most of the rest of Tom's pictures were taken for scientific purposes, and not specifically to show anything about the bloom. However, they may be of interest to people showing some aspects of what the bloom was like on a given date. Tom's pictures are not even on standard webpages; Table 3 gives links to a directory and you have to click on the link for each picture to see it. Scientific names are used almost exclusively for the picture names.

Table 3. Links to Directories With Pictures From Each Trip

October 10
October 15
December 2
December 7
December 12
December 16
December 21
December 28
January 8
January 12
January 17
January 22
January 27
February 1
February 5
February 15
February 21
February 25
March 1
March 5

See also Tom's Pictures From Each Hike in 2011-2012, 2010-2011 and 2009-2010 (caution: some pictures may have been deleted due to web space limitations).

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Updated 8 March 2013