Plant Curator often daydreams about spending a few months at this time of year doing a photographic tour of the Californian desert wildflower regions. The ultimate plant lovers road trip would involve going south to north, from desert hotspot to desert hotspot, catching like dominos, the peak blooms in each place. In reality it’s not that latitudinally predictable, as variable rainfall and altitude means variable blooming times. Luckily, there are some resources to help. Firstly, there is Desert USA, a great website that tells you exactly what is blooming and where. Altruistic local people post updates and photos of flower sightings to the website as and when they see them, enabling us to plan our trips accordingly to make the most of the flowers on show. Secondly, to help the road trip even more, Plant Curator found this really useful blooming times timeline (annotated by PC below) by the U.S Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, that gives you a good idea of the ‘usual flowering times’ for each region. By using the two resources together, plans can be made and disappointments avoided. If you follow these estimated times you will end up doing more of a zig-zag than a unidirectional trip. All recommended locations have been plotted on map below.
Below we list our top desert picks. Some Plant Curator has been privileged enough to see, others it just fantasises about repeatedly.
1. Finding the Desert Lily
This is not your ordinary lily this is the Desert Lily. It shimmers and sparkles silver and white in the desert sun and it is oddly stripey with jaggedy leaves. Rare enough that you will need to look for a while to find it (Plant Curator took 3 days), but common enough that you won’t go totally crazy in the heat. Hesperocallis undulata can be found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of southeastern California and Plant Curator once saw a few of them in Anza-borrego State Park (see 2 below). This is special plant to see wild.
2. Hiking the Anza-borrego state park canyons
Anza-Borrego is California’s largest state park, 25 by 50 miles in size and ringed by mountains. It is located within the Colorado Desert. It is also a World Biosphere Reserve and most importantly home to some amazing plants. The quintessential Anza-borrego shot of mountain to mountain wildflower blooms is shown below. Made up in part by the beautiful Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa) and Dune Evening Primrose (Oenotheera deltoides).
3. Photographing Californian poppies in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
This is a famous and well photographed wildflower hotspot where you will see swarms and swarms of Californian poppy or Eschscholzia californica, the state flower of California. The timeline says we should head here around April time and if the sun is shining expect to see a golden glow to beat all glows.
Image Copyright Californian department of Parks and Recreation. See Website
4. Ocotillos, ocotillos flaming red everywhere
You’ll often see these plants in desert garden landscaping. They have an architectural quality that offsets a house quite well. Viewing them wild in the desert when not in flower is also eye-catching. But seeing the Ocotillo or Fouquieria splendens in full bloom is the best. Indigenous to the Sonoran Desert with a range throughout the south west USA this woody, thorny, multi wand-like stemmed plant produces dense tubular bright red flowers that cluster at the top of each stem like flaming torches. Magnificent.
5. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) are a little surreal and extremely wondrous. Casting your eye across a landscape of them you feel transported to another vegetative world. In addition to these and all the other great species, there is the Cholla Cactus Garden which contains dense clusters of the aforementioned plant. Another hypnagogic sight. So much to see all year round, it is hard to imagine it any better – but then it blooms. Last year went on record as one of the greatest years for flowering, with blooming Joshua Trees in great abundance over most of its range. Plant Curator wonders how it will do this year.
Send an email if you would like to join Plant Curator for its now planned 2015 Californian Wildflower Blooming Road Trip!