There are three things to look forward to when spring hits the Valley: baseball, weather and wildflowers.
To get the bountiful blankets of blossoms that turn barren hills into colorful masterpieces, rain must fall on a regular basis from October through the blooming season in March and April.
That has not happened this year.
“You’re not going to see a lot of wildflowers (this spring). You’re going to see some wildflowers, but you’ll see them in little pockets,” says Ranger Brennan Basler at Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa. “Nothing widespread at all.”
But lack of rain has little effect on other plants that can thrive during years of low rainfall, he says.
“The desert is beautiful no matter what. There’s always something to show color (in) the variety of the plants we have here year-round. Our perennials are green, our cacti all stay green, our state tree stays green.”
Tim Kristof, a ranger at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, has seen hedgehog cactuses blooming around his park, and Basler has reported prickly pears and buckhorn chollas in bloom at Usery Mountain.
“What’s saving the day are the perennials, so the shrubs of our desert are in bloom. You’ve got a lot of brittlebush, chuparosa. You’ve got cresote out blooming, you’ve got trixis, you have desert marigolds. There’s already some desert senna,” says Basler.
Kristof says the primary color blooming right now is yellow, the blossom color of creosote, brittlebush, trixis, desert marigolds, desert senna and sometimes the prickly pear, which can also sport peachy-orange flowers.
“There’s a little feathering of yellowing up on the hills,” says Kristof. “It’s not totally yellow, but you can see it from a distance and see it up close.”
Hedgehog cactuses have vivid magenta blooms this time of year. Chuparosa flowers are red.
If you will settle for nothing less than scenic Arizona wildflowers, there is one place you can go.
“We have our own wildflower trail, which we supplement with irrigation, so it’s blooming,” says John Sallot of Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden. “It looks great right now. I can always tell you, ours looks great every year.”
Desert Botanical Garden teams with several Arizona parks, gardens and other sites to create an interactive online map showing where flowers are blooming around the state. It can be found at dbg.org/gardening-horticulture/wildflower-infosite.
The lack of widespread wildflowers does make seeing some this year special.
“When you’re desperate, anything that comes along is impressive,” says Basler.
The bloom season for wildflowers ends in May.
• Preston, a junior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org