Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2015-2016

Fig. 1. View of the sunflower field area just north of Henderson Canyon Road on 4 March 2016; photograph by Fred Melgert.

See also Pictures shown here on prior dates.

See Background Information for 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.

Summary of Blooms in 2015-2016

The Borrego Desert is now in full bloom.

All the usual suspects that produce good displays of color on the desert floor are blooming now. The field of Geraea canescens, hairy desert-sunflower, in the area just north of Henderson Canyon Road, is now in full bloom. It went from just a few blooms on 26 February 2016 to thousands of blooms on 4 March 2016, just seven days later!

Many spots along Coyote Canyon Road, beginning at the end of Di Giorgio Road, are also in good bloom, with displays of sand verbena and hundreds of desert lilies, Hesperocallis undulata, in full bloom.

On 5 March 2016, we recorded at least 1,266 plants of 72 species in bloom, at elevations of 2000 to 2800 feet, in a hike up Bitter Creek Canyon, a tributary of Grapevine Canyon, seeing an additional eight species in bloom along S2, SR78 and Grapevine Canyon Road below 3000 feet elevation on our drive to that area. This number of species in bloom is typical of what we see at full bloom, although the number of plants in bloom is a bit lower than in a normal year.

This year, the bloom is much more variable with location than normal. Other recent hikes in Grapevine Canyon have had only half the number of species in bloom. Oddly, in a flip of the normal situation, many washes are much less floriferous than normal, with bouldery spots producing some of the best flowers. Although most of the annual plants on the desert floor are significantly smaller than what would be seen in a good year, with many fewer flowers, that is not unusual for an average year.

However, there can still be good wildflower displays from a single bloom per plant, if there are thousands of plants! Fig. 1 shows a photograph of the sunflower field area just north of Henderson Canyon Road taken on 4 March 2016, and shows a very nice field of flowers. If the plants only produce one flower head each, this display will be brief. But if this area receives rain in the near future, the plants may decide to produce more flower heads.

The perennials and shrubs look happy with the rainfall they got, even though it was below normal. As is often the case, some species have responded well to the unique rainfall pattern of each year. For example, desert lilies, Hesperocallis undulata, are having an excellent year, with abundant blooms (see photograph at top of this page).

The wonderful news about the lack of Sahara Mustard, Brassica tournefortii, continues! For the second year in a row, the mustard is not the dominant plant on the sandy desert floor in most places, allowing us to see our native plants blooming there (See Sahara Mustard Reduction in Numbers in the Borrego Desert Floor in 2015).

We expected a much better and more widespread bloom this year from all the super-El Niño hype, and the predictions of two inches of rain in the desert in October 2015 that never materialized. Unfortunately, this year has been yet another below-normal rainfall in the Borrego Desert. There was only a single rainfall event in the Borrego Desert, of two inches in and west of Borrego Springs on 5-6 January 2016, and of just an inch or less east of Borrego Springs. This produced good, but somewhat spotty, germination in and west of Borrego Springs, but only very scattered germination east of Borrego Springs.

There was only one small rainfall event after that, on 31 January 2016, of just 0.04 to 0.4 inches in Borrego Springs, and nothing east of there.

Conditions were almost the exact opposite of what it takes to produce a good bloom. The germinating rainfall was late, followed by a month of temperatures ten degrees colder than normal that produced almost no growth for the annuals. Then the weather suddenly turned hot, with temperatures ten degrees warmer than normal. The lack of further rain, and the warm temperatures, caused the annual plants to begin blooming when they were very small. For example, the desert sunflower, Geraea canescens, are starting to bloom when they are just one foot tall or less, about half their usual size (see Fig. 1). These smaller plants will produce many fewer blooms than normal-size plants would.

See List of species observed in bloom on 26 February 2016 from a drive down Montezuma Grade (beginning at 3000 feet elevation in Culp Valley), and from three locations on the desert floor northeast of Borrego Springs.

Note about a few spots with plants that began blooming in January 2016

A few areas just south of the eastern Santa Rosa Mountains, such as the Truckhaven Rocks area, received some significant rain in September and/or October 2015. That caused spotty germination in that area, especially in locations where water pooled, and produced scattered plants that were huge and blooming in January 2016. That included the largest plants of Plantago ovata, Cryptantha maritima, and C. barbigera var. fergusoniae we've ever seen.

Predictions for This Year

Without further rainfall and cooler temperatures, the period of peak bloom may be shorter than normal.

Links to Other Webpages, etc. on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Blooms

Anza-Borrego Wildflowers Guide by Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen, with daily wildflower updates.

Wildflower Updates from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, often with daily updates from Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen, and other reporters.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park official site, with wildflower information on it. Click on the link near the top with the word Update, which might be updated weekly.

DesertUSA Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Wildflower Reports

Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute Wildflowers and their Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Wildflower Hotline: (760)767-4684. "Information on this recording is updated regularly."

Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline (Reports begin the first Friday in March)

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Copyright © 2008-2016 by Tom Chester, Kate Harper, Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen.
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Updated 6 March 2016