The Desert Promise: Of Blooms and Superblooms

  • Posted on 29 March 2021
  • By Jane Simpson
We often think that the desert is, well, a desert – arid, khaki-toned and full of mystery. But in these barren landscapes, hardy seeds lie waiting for just the right conditions to spring into action. While poppies, our state flower, are the biggest draw out near Lancaster, there are many other flowers, plants and scenic wonders to discover throughout our region, even in dry years when we have to look harder.
Poppies popping among more colorful blooms in a "good year,". by Jane Simpson

Poppies popping among more colorful blooms in a "good year," by Jane Simpson

We Just need to be more vigilant to spot those flashes of bright yellow, pink or purples jumping out from the sandy soil and rocky slopes. And sometimes just the exposed topography of rocks and undulating ridgelines is enough to draw us in.
The 2017 “Superbloom,” Henderson Field, Anza Borrego

The 2017 “Superbloom,” Henderson Field, Anza Borrego. This was the scene of the biggest desert wildflower display in decades at the park. by Jane Simpson

Occasionally, the desert surprises us with an explosion of color. Dubbed a “superbloom,” this unscientific term for a phenomenal blooming season took on a life of its own when Death Valley ran amok with California Gold sunflowers in 2016. Then 2017 stole the spotlight. After years of drought, the rains started early in 2017 and kept falling during that Winter. Beneath the desert floors, thick, waxy-coated wildflower seeds began to soften and stir from their long dormancy. As the wet, cool weather continued, Anza Borrego, Joshua Tree, Carrizo Plain and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve areas all became blitzed by a media storm when the seeds sprouted en masse, exceeding expectations. Soon came a flood of instagrammers posing in flowers, cars lined up on dusty by-ways and photographers jockeying for a perfect shot.

Henderson Field, Anza Borrego

Henderson Field, Anza Borrego These low-lying eye-catchers are ephemerals - evening primrose and verbena - that have to wait decades underground before the right conditions nudge their appearance on the desert floor. What a show! by Jane Simpson

Wildflower fans and naturalists alike continue to keep an eye on rainfall, temperatures and wind patterns in an effort to predict the next exciting bloom season, much like Fall foliage junkies track weather in the Sierra Nevada. 
And then came 2019, the most recent superbloom year. Fields and canyons from deserts to gentle coastal slopes displayed  glorious ephemerals, flowering plants that have a short but intense life span and prove to be even more impressive when they all decide to bloom in vast numbers at the same time. These are most often low-lying, compact plants with fewer leaves; they perpetuate their species by keeping their seeds lying in wait for the next rainy season.
Wandering in Flowers, 2019 JTNP Bloom

Wandering in Flowers, 2019 JTNP Bloom by Jane Simpson

As unusual as a great blooming season is, even in off years there are flowers popping up just when you think it’s impossible. Spiky plants such as cactus and cholla will find ways to tease out enough water from the air and ground. But now, as our climate warms and wildfires take off even in deserts, the ability to not only predict but also experience a legendary blooming season seems more remote.
Teddy Bear Cholla in Bloom, Cholla Garden, JTNP

Teddy Bear Cholla in Bloom, Cholla Garden, JTNP by Jane Simpson

Poppies aren't the only game in own out near the Reserve, by Jane Simpson

Poppies aren't the only game in town out near the Reserve, by Jane Simpson

Hedgehog Cactus. Pretty but don't get too close.

Hedgehog Cactus. Pretty but don't get too close. by Jane Simpson

And so we wait for the next big bloom and hope it’s super.

[Header Photo by Jane Simpson]

By Jane Simpson, Leadership Training Committee Vice Chair, I rated outings leader, WTC instructor and visual artist. Jane’s professional career has run the gamut  from animation to commercials and music videos, documentary work and more. Photography has always been a part of her repertoire and now it’s a chief passion whether the style is street, nature or people.


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The wild flowers pictured are very beautiful. Around this time of year there are the desert flower blooms in Joshua Tree. The day trip is worth the sights.

Beautiful flowers that sprout into the desert, never knew that some of these even existed.

They're all gorgeous photos. It's such a shame that there won't be a bloom this year. Here's to hoping we can't break the dry spell come winter 2022.

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