Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2016-2017

Fig. 1. Wildflowers on the desert floor near the Vern Whitaker Horse Camp on 10 March 2017. Many places on the west side of Borrego Springs have similar displays.
Click on the picture for a larger version.

Fig. 2. The Henderson Canyon Road sunflower field on 10 March 2017.
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Fig. 3. Left: Many hillsides surrounding Borrego Springs, and in the canyons, are covered with fields of flowers from Parish's poppy, Eschscholzia parishii. Photo is of the mountains just north of Henderson Canyon taken on 10 March 2017. Right: Many places in the Borrego Badlands, especially in the southern part and in Ocotillo Wells, are covered in places with heliotrope phacelia, Phacelia crenulata var. ambigua. Photo from a wash between Palo Verde Wash and Fault Wash from 6 March 2017.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.

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 2016-2017

It is a spectacular year in the Borrego Desert, as can be easily seen from the pictures above. For the first time since 2011, there are abundant blooms east of Borrego Springs, in the canyons north of S22 and in the Borrego Badlands south of S22. Nearly the entire desert floor in, west and north of Borrego Springs is filled with color. Even better, the numbers of Sahara mustard, Brassica tournefortii are still reduced from their bloom-killing numbers in the past, allowing the native plants to have a spectacular display at least for this year.

Two amazing flower displays occurred this year that none of us have ever witnessed:

Peak bloom on the desert floor began at the end of February when desert dandelion, Malacothrix glabrata, and desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana popped into full bloom between 25 February and 2 March. Hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens, was in full bloom then in the Borrego Badlands, but it took another week for the display along Henderson Canyon Road to reach its peak.

For a very long time this winter, due to an extensive period of below-average temperatures, there were hardly any blooms at all on the desert floor. Finally, in early February, temperatures warmed enough for the plants to start thinking about blooming, and the number of species in bloom began to increase rapidly. The progress of this year's bloom is shown as the heavy black line in the plot of the number of species in bloom on each trip, with the previous eight years shown as separate colored lines.

The first bloomers were brown-eyed evening primrose, Chylismia claviformis ssp. peirsonii, and spectacle-pod, Dithyrea californica, producing fields of white in mid-February.

Unfortunately, beginning on 9 March 2017, the high temperatures have been in the high 80s, with temps of 90 degrees predicted for the next week. Ordinarily, that would quickly put an end to the bloom. However, a good rain fell at the end of February, which may be sufficient to let the plants keep blooming through this heat at least for a while.

For a recommendation on where to go for the best blooms, your best bet is to go to the ABDSP Visitor Center, at the west end of Palm Canyon Drive, or to the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association store, near Christmas Circle in the center of town on Palm Canyon Drive, on the day of your visit and ask them. They get reports from lots of people about the best current spots, and can point you to good places that might be less crowded, taking into account the capabilities of your vehicle, current road conditions, and your time constraints. They also know what the weather is like on a given day, so you can avoid ending up in areas with blowing sand from 30 mph winds, or areas with no wind and 95 degree heat.

Comparison to the glorious 2005 bloom. Although this year's bloom is spectacular, the glorious 2005 bloom was more diverse, with more plants of more species, and the plants were much larger, producing many more flowers. In that season, germinating rain fell in October 2004, and good rain fell in every successive month, giving the plants time, warmth, and moisture to grow large before flowering in March 2005.

This year, germinating rain fell only in late December 2016, and the weather was unusually cold during the next two months, producing much smaller plants than in 2005. Fortunately, additional rainfall in January and February gave these plants the resources to produce a spectacular bloom even though the plants are typically significantly smaller than the plants in 2005, with two exceptions. First, a small number of plants in a small number of locations, mostly at higher elevation, germinated from rain in late September 2016, and were able to grow much larger than the typical plants seen in most places. Second, some plants in the sandy areas near Coyote Creek had enough moisture stored in the sand to grow as large as they did in 2005, despite the heat of March and April 2017.

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 © 2008-2017 by Tom Chester, Kate Harper, Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen.
Commercial rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce any or all of this page for individual or non-profit institutional internal use as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 12 March 2017 (typo corrected on 21 July 2017, along with a small addition about the size of the plants in 2017)