Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2019-2020

6 February 2020

12 February 2020
Fig. 1. Left: Part of one of the best patches of Bigelow's monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii, from the Elephant Tree Natural Area, about 100 plants in bloom in one small area. Right: The desolate look of the area at the end of the pavement on Di Giorgio Road, at the beginning of the Coyote Canyon Dirt Road. See one very small plant of hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens, in bloom there.
Click on the photos for larger versions.


We are now approaching full bloom on the desert floor, but this is most definitely NOT a superbloom year. The bloom is that of a typical "good" year, defined as a year where there was enough rainfall to germinate annuals in most places.

In most normal good years, the annual bloom in many areas consists of small plants with few flowers, but with widely-scattered areas that have better blooms. There are few, if any, "carpets" of annual wildflowers.

Many perennial plants produce good blooms in such years. For example, brittlebush, Encelia farinosa, is exploding with buds all along the Montezuma Grade, and will produce a good bloom in March 2020. The canyons on the west side of Borrego Springs, such as Hellhole Canyon, Borrego Palm Canyon, and Henderson Canyon, often have good displays of flowers in such years.

Here are some examples showing how variable the annual bloom is:

In most places below 1000 feet elevation, we are probably not at the peak yet, but especially this year, we probably will only know when peak bloom occurred after the peak is over.

The bloom has yet to really start at higher elevations, since it has been cold there. The bloom at 3000 feet is likely to start in mid-March or later, and might be quite brief.

What happened to the very promising start of the season, when we had double our normal rainfall in late 2019? The rain stopped. We didn't get the rainfall in January and February needed to convince the plants to keep growing larger before blooming. We have gotten little to no rain in many areas of the Borrego Desert since 28 December 2019. As a result, many of our annuals decided in early February that they needed to start blooming then, when they were still very small, since they were running out of water. Small plants produce few blooms, and may end their bloom suddenly if the weather turns warm.

Peak bloom might be better, and later, in the southern half of Anza Borrego Desert Park. Due to cold weather, on 12 January 2020 the plants in the Palm Spring area (near Canebrake) were weeks behind the plants in the Borrego Springs Area. They received good rain (from Canebrake south) on 9 February 2020, which might encourage them to grow larger before blooming. We haven't seen any reports of the bloom starting there yet.

Unfortunately, Sahara mustard is making a comeback in many areas, and will choke out the wildflower bloom in those areas, such as roadsides along S22 east of Borrego Springs west of the Thimble Trail, and probably in the Borrego Dump area. One area near the eastern end of Henderson Canyon Road already went from nearly 100% native plants to nearly 100% non-native weeds in just two years from 2017 to 2019.

See Sahara Mustard Reduction in Numbers in the Borrego Desert Floor in 2015 for how wonderful it was immediately after the drought years. Sahara mustard still hasn't made a full, choking, comeback in some good wildflower areas.

Last year, we had excellent rain in a swath of areas on October 12 and 13, which produced good annual germination, which resulted in blooms beginning in December. That didn't happen this year. The late September rain was too early to germinate winter annuals on the desert floor, except in an extremely few isolated locations where water runoff was concentrated. The late September rain did germinate a lot of roadside annuals at higher elevations such as Culp Valley, mostly Sahara mustard.

See the reports and graph in Fred Melgert and Carla Hoegen's 2019-2020 bloom report to see the actual progress of the bloom this year, and to get their timely reports of what they have seen on their almost-daily hikes.

The best source to look for places to hike that have flowers you might be interested in, is the crowd-sourced iNaturalist to pick places that have species that you are interested in. You can get almost daily updates on what is blooming, or not blooming, in the Anza-Borrego Desert, as well as where species were found. Click on "Filters" and select a date range to see the observations from that period. For example, here are all the observations on 1 February 2020 and later, including 1,396 observations from just the first 12 days of the month! Each observation gives the date and time of observation, and the latitude and longitude for each observation, which is plotted on a map for you so you can see where it was from.

If you find species at iNat that you are interested in seeing, you can search just for recent observations of those species, and go where you see the most observations. Here is an example from last year: if you had wanted to see ghostflowers in bloom in early March 2019, there were 43 observations posted between 20 February and 2 March 2019. Clicking on the "Map" tab shows there were six separate locations where observations have been posted.

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

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

iNaturalist observations in the Borrego Desert since 1 December 2019 (click on "Filters" to change the dates)

Wildflower Updates from the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park official site, with wildflower information on it. When they start producing current wildflower reports, 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 (link will be supplied when they create their page this year) 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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Updated 14 February 2020