Bloom Reports from the Anza-Borrego Desert: 2020-2021

Fig. 1. Top: View of Coyote Creek Road looking east from the middle of Second Crossing on 31 January 2021. It has been a very long time since we have seen it so dry. See also view looking west and view down the creek, both also from the middle of Second Crossing.

Bottom: View of the flower area just southeast of the end of the pavement of Di Giorgio Road on 31 January 2021, dry, without any annual germination at all.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

Summary as of 2 February 2021

There continue to be "flowers few" in most places in the Borrego Desert below 3000 feet now, and the prospect for any annual flowers on the desert floor this season are vanishing by the minute. No germination has been observed anywhere on the desert floor in the Borrego Springs area, from Second Crossing of Coyote Creek to the east. There has been no germination since there has been essentially no rain on the desert floor this season.

This is likely going to be a very poor bloom season for the desert floor east of the base of the mountains, with no annuals in bloom at all, and only small numbers of perennials and shrubs in bloom. Blooms should be better west of Borrego Springs, but it is likely to be a fairly poor bloom year there due to lack of much rain.

On most hikes, expect to see only a handful of plants with any blooms at all, from typically just six to ten species, even in normally-wet areas, like Coyote Creek Second and Third Crossing. Most areas look very dry, as seen in Fig. 1. Mule fat plants that normally are full of bloom this time of year at Second Crossing look lifeless and are hard to even recognize as a mulefat plant.

The Hellhole Canyon Trailhead looked the same on 11 January 2021 as it did on 11 November 2020, two months previously. There was no germination at all observed in untrampled areas near the parking lot.

The only exception for blooms was the sandy area in San Felipe Creek and its tributaries from the Texas Dip on Borrego Springs Road to four miles east or so back in December 2020, where there were 13 to 18 species in bloom, including hundreds of plants of Dicoria, Palafoxia, and Psorothamnus emoryi.

The only place we have seen native annual germination on the desert floor so far is in Mason Valley at the bottom of Box Canyon, and that only for a stretch of less than a mile along S2. Some of the canyons west of the Desert Floor have a very small number of germinated native annual plants.

Fortunately, the desert is still a wonderful place to be at this time of year, with comfortable temperatures and fascinating plants, even if most of them are not blooming. And "flowers few" makes it more like a Treasure Hunt to find the species that are in bloom. Tip: look in washes, along roadsides, and other places that might have received extra runoff, such as among boulders. Even in a dry year, many shrubs will bloom on schedule. For example, we observed the first Bahiopsis parishii blooming along S22 in Culp Valley on 11 January 2021. On the other hand, we found no Bahiopsis blooms in that same area on 31 January 2021.

iNat is a wonderful way to get a list of species that have been observed to be in bloom recently. For example, see the species noted as being in bloom here since 19 January 2021, which totaled 93 observations of 39 species in the two week interval as of 2 February 2021 (note that some of those annual species in bloom are from the watered grounds of the Borrego Library, and some are from the higher-elevation mountains west of Borrego Springs). The most commonly-posted species in bloom are the usual suspects of chuparosa, ocotillo, and desert lavender. (Note: the linked query will only find iNat observations that are annotated as "flowering". We and others are trying to keep the annotations up to date, at least while there aren't too many observations to keep up with.)

The desert floor in and to the east of Borrego Springs did not receive any significant monsoonal rain this summer, and so far it has received very little winter rainfall. Borrego Springs at 500 feet elevation received just 0.04" on 7 and 8 November 2020; 0.01" on 28 December 2020; 0.04" on 20 January 2021; and 0.13" on 25 January 2021. This total of 0.22" is far from the one inch needed to germinate native annuals.

In areas west of Borrego Springs that got some rainfall, we have seen very little annual germination so far, with most annual germination being of non-native weeds. Even some reliable shrub bloomers at this time of year, such as Prunus fremontii, had only weak blooms, with some plants still flowerless and almost leafless. A few Mammillaria dioica plants have started to bloom, with exactly two plants seen in bloom so far.

Rainfall increased dramatically to the west, with Ranchita at 4008 feet reporting a total of 2.5" as of 26 January 2021. But elevations above 3000 feet are unlikely to see any native annual germination or other plant growth until temperatures begin to warm up in February and March.

The best source to look for places that have flowers is the crowd-sourced iNaturalist. 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 made on 15 January 2021 and later, which totaled 984 observations of 189 species as of 2 February 2021 (the vast majority were of course not in bloom!). Each observation gives the date and time of observation, and the latitude and longitude for each observation, which is plotted on a map so you can see where it was from (note that rare species have obscured coordinates).

Bloom Reports

The latest bloom reports are given first (i.e., the reports are in inverse order of time).

1 February 2021. Don Rideout did a several mile hike in Tubb Canyon and Loki Canyon, finding ten species in bloom, including the first Mammillaria dioica of the season.

31 January 2021. Tom Chester and Don Rideout hiked a 4.5 mile loop from the Alcoholic Pass Trailhead, and found just five species in bloom, with just one or a few plants of each species except ocotillo, which had about 30 plants in bloom.

30 January 2021. Don Rideout hiked about two miles in the Horse Camp Area just northwest of Borrego Springs, and found just four species in flower.

21 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a three mile loop at the southern end of Borrego Springs, near the first 90° curve of Borrego Springs Road, and found only a handful of species in bloom.

15 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a five mile loop east of Vallecito County Park, finding few species in bloom. But Tom observed some nice native annual germination in Mason Valley just south of Box Canyon.

11 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a four mile loop from S22 / Palo Verde Wash, north outside of the wash, east to just short of Smoke Tree Wash, south to Palo Verde Wash, and back by Palo Verde Wash. There were just five species in bloom.

4 January 2021. Tom Chester hiked a six mile loop from the Villager Peak Trailhead, up to the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, and then around Lute Ridge. There were no plants blooming in most areas (see Fig. 1). The sandy areas near Lute Ridge contributed a total of 24 plants of eight species in bloom.

30 December 2020. Tom Chester hiked a seven mile loop at the southeast base of Coyote Mountain, and found just 22 plants of five species in bloom.

26 December 2020. Don Rideout botanized the lowermost 3.5 miles of Nolina Canyon and Pinyon Canyon, and found six species in bloom. Five of those species had just a few plants in bloom, but there were still a hundred or so plants of Ericameria paniculata in bloom.

22 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 4.5 mile loop on the north side of Borrego Mountain, west of Buttes Pass Road, and found about 40 plants of 11 species in bloom.

18 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 4.5 mile loop of two tributaries of San Felipe Creek east of Borrego Springs Road, and found the best bloom of any area so far this year: 18 species in bloom, with hundreds of plants of Dicoria, Palafoxia, and Psorothamnus emoryi in bloom. The other species had one to 15 plants in bloom.

14 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized an 8 mile loop of two tributaries of San Felipe Creek east of Borrego Springs Road, and found 15 species in bloom, with hundreds of plants of Dicoria, Palafoxia, and Psorothamnus emoryi in bloom. The other species had one to ten plants in bloom.

9 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 5 mile loop in Cactus Valley, finding just three species in bloom.

4 December 2020. Tom Chester botanized an 8 mile loop in San Felipe Creek below The Narrows, finding 13 species in bloom. The surprise was finding 30 plants in bloom of ground-cherry, Physalis crassifolia, and 15 blooming plants of Palafoxia. The other species had one to ten plants in bloom.

30 November 2020. Tom Chester botanized a 5 mile loop just east of Yaqui Flat, finding the usual six species in bloom, with 44 total plants in bloom.

25 November 2020. Don Rideout and Tom Chester hiked separately in the area east of Yaqui Flat and north of SR78, doing somewhat different loops. Don found four species in bloom in his hike: Ditaxis lanceolata, Eriogonum inflatum, ocotillo and chuparosa. Tom found six species in bloom: 10 plants of Ericameria paniculata (see Fig. 1), and one plant of Eriogonum wrightii var. nodosum, Fouquieria splendens, Justicia californica, Peritoma arborea, and Stephanomeria pauciflora.

24 November 2020. Don Rideout reports five species in bloom, Ditaxis lanceolata, Ditaxis neomexicana, Eriogonum inflatum, ocotillo, and chuparosa, in an unnamed canyon north of Dry Canyon, at the bottom end where it meets the valley floor.

23 November 2020. Don Rideout reports only a single species in bloom in Borrego Palm Canyon up to the alternate trail, Eriogonum inflatum. There was limited germination of a few annual species, Phacelia distans and Brassica tournefortii.

22 November 2020. Don Rideout reports seeing three species in bloom (ocotillo, chuparosa, and desert lavender) in a short hike up Dry Canyon from the bottom.

11 November 2020. Tom Chester reports only two species in bloom in Hellhole Canyon up to mile 2.0, five plants of Eriogonum inflatum and a single plant of Peritoma arborea.

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 2 February 2021