2010 California Desert Wildflower Prognostications

Ocotillo and Arizon Lupine. Colorado Desert, California

Despite the copious amounts of rain and snow that have fallen on California’s deserts since late November 2009, the 2010 desert wildflower season (if there is to be one) is off to a rather poor start. The attached photograph was made on March 9, 2008. If I were to take you to this location today, we would find nothing like the sweep of Arizona Lupine we see surrounding these Ocotillo. In fact, as of a few days ago, flower-less was this location and many others that are typically in flower at this time. Many high desert residents have delayed their spring gardening, as winter has hung around for as much as one month longer than in most years. The continued precipitation, cold, and wind has done little to encourage growth. Regardless, close inspection of the ground, plants, and buds reveals what may be an underwhelming bloom, despite all this rain!

I initially had scheduled a Desert Wildflower Photography Tour for March 6. I would have typically counted on this date, but on March 6 of 2010, there was virtually nothing in flower. So I postponed the Tour until March 20. I have spent recent days in the locations I had planned to take the tour, but because most of these locations are tremendously late and possibly altogether flower-less this spring, I have canceled any plans for a Desert Wildflower Tour.

I concluded a private workshop last Sunday in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As Ron Niebrugge and Phil Colla have already reported, Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) has radically altered the Borrego Valley landscape, stretching from Borrego Springs all the way to Salton Sea. I even found it in remote canyons and washes during my stay. Unfortunately, the spread of this plant is out of control, with millions of acres of Colorado and Sonoran Desert having already been transformed, and with many more acres at risk from this noxious and invasive species. I’ll, too, join the choir in declaring that the vast fields of wildflowers that made Borrego Valley famous may now be a thing of the past. The only real solution at this time is hand-pulling, which is not terribly effective when thousands of acres have been inundated with this devil weed. You can help! If you spot Sahara Mustard while in the field, KILL IT! The entire plant – roots and all – must be pulled, placed in a tied-off plastic bag, and properly disposed of. Simply pulling the plant and tossing it aside is not enough, as the seeds can and will still disperse from a pulled plant.

There is a possibility that things could flip quickly, as we are finally experiencing spring-like conditions throughout most of the California desert for the next week or so. Should I find a remarkable transformation out there, I may offer a short-notice one day tour. Barring this, I am currently at work on putting together a late March/early April 2010 trip to southern Death Valley’s stunning Owlshead Mountains. Only there can I guarantee spreads of wildflowers, towering sand dunes, and vast and stunning landscapes. Click here for more information about this tour.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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4 thoughts on “2010 California Desert Wildflower Prognostications

  1. Hi Michael,

    For all we think we now about what makes for a promising desert wildflower season, and when specific locations are likely to bloom, there is more to it that regularly makes me scratch my head and wonder. A few years ago in 2006 Antelope Valley State reserve that is also the site of the remote CDEC rain gauge had twice normal rainfall but wildflowers about the reserve that spring were pathetic as they were in most of the other usual spots that year. Well except for parts of the northwest section. What makes it likely we humans might eventually figure it out better is the fact that when the same thing happens across a region, one might surmise all those plants have been affected by weather in some way that is beyond mere precipitation.

    The truly most strange spring season that we old timers can recall was the spring when the several year late 80s drought broke. That winter was very dry and looked hopeless. Well until March. Yes the year of the famous Miracle March where it rain heavily almost every day of the month throughout the state. By mid April there were amazing displays including the one Huell Houser broadcast years ago on California Gold the tape of which seems to be lost. Even though I’ve been there during several superb years I’ve never seen that valley like his team captured on that video.

    As for Sahara mus-turd at Anza-Borrego, back in 2005 it was pretty apparent it was going to get much worse. I did alot of ranting online but no one seemed to care. I’ve crushed tens of thousands of those disgusting green plants with my big heavy duty backpacking boots and yanked them out of the ground when within landscapes I had in sight of my groundglass. In many areas the plants have only colonized within a close range of highways. With 10,000 people walking along within a quarter mile of highways we could virtually wipe the stuff out for as far as people might walk. If one group walked 3 miles doing so, 10 such groups or 100,000 people could do 30 miles much like the annual Coast Cleanup Days.

  2. Hi David: Thanks for commenting!

    What I do know about wildflowers is that they are exceptionally fickle and have very specific demands. I’m fine with this; the amazing years are amazing because they are unique. If we had 2005 every spring, we would all take the amazing beauty for granted.

    As for eradication, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum,

    “Control in the thousands of square miles of remote desert habitat seems almost hopeless. Finding an acceptable biological control agent will be a challenge because many important crop plants are in the genus Brassica (e.g., cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and rapeseed ). There are also numerous native mustards that might be threatened by a biological agent unless it is extremely host-specific.”

    So, while hand-pulling in small areas is effective, it’s a lifelong effort in others. We can engage thousands in coastal cleanups because everyone loves the beach; for many, the “desert wasteland” seems the perfect place for an invasive species. Until the economic value of spring wildflower displays is made evident, I fear that the only progress to be made against the mus-turd ;) will be by photographers looking to create mus-turd free photographs and naturalists who dread the loss of spring wildflowers.

  3. When I arrived in Borrego Springs in early February, I would have been willing to bet large sums of money that we would be seeing an amazing wildflower bloom by March 6!

    As much as human want to predict and control, I think it is great that mother nature has a different idea.

    The mustard is really sad. I was surprised at how much was in some of the more remote, trail-less areas. There is still plenty to see and photograph in Anza-Borrego as you well know, but it will be a real shame to lose those rare years of amazing wildflowers.

  4. Pingback: I Am Alive! « Michael E. Gordon Photography

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