Anza Borrego

Spring is here in Southern California, and it’s high time I begin botanizing and blogging. My plan is to search for flowers most weekends for the next 3 or so months. The combination of a wet winter (finally!), my proximity to some amazing wildflower hot spots, and a bit time on my hands should lead to some great flower finds. I got started this past weekend with an overnight trip to Anza Borrego State Park in eastern San Diego County.

Anza Borrego is the largest state park in California covering 600,000 acres of beautiful desert mountains and flats. It forms the western edge of Sonoran Desert, which extends into Arizona and Northwest Mexico. Most of the plant species found in the park occur throughout the Sonoran Desert, and many also occur to the north in the cooler Mohave Desert (cooler being very relatively here, as Death Valley is in the Mohave! Basically it doesn’t freeze that often in the winter in the Sonoran Desert, while it does in the Mohave). Further east, the Sonoran Desert is home to the famous Saguaro Catus (Carnegiea gigantea), but that species doesn’t occur in California’s part of the Sonoran (somewhat confusingly called the Colorado Desert). Instead the distinctive dominant plants are Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae) and Desert Lavender (Condea emoryi, Lamiaceae). The flowers of the latter were in full bloom:


The Ocotillo was mostly still in bud. You can see this plant in the background below, they are the green twisty sticks in the upper left. Also in this photo, you can see some flowers in bloom, but the desert floor is like this in many places now- a green carpet of with budding annual plants. We are about a week away from an absolute explosion of color, as the Sonoran Desert Superbloom hits in full force. If you can make it to Anza Borrego in the next three weeks, do it!


Despite being a bit early, many of the common Sonoran wildflowers were beginning to bloom, and there were already impressively large displays in places. Here’s a shot of a particularly pretty hillside of Eschscholtzia parishii, Eschscholtzia minutiflora (Desert Poppies, Papaveraceae) and Mimulus bigelovii (Bigelow’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae), with a close-up of the later.


I’ve already posted photos of some of the most abundant flowers last year, as they overlap with the Death Valley flora. But here are some additional species that were starting to cover large areas:

Dithyrea californica (Spectaclepod, Brassicaceae), blanketed the lowest desert flats (the common name refers to the strangely shaped seed pods). Fagonia laevis (California fagonbush, Zygophyllaceae) formed large clumps in rockier areas. Oenothera deltoides (Desert Lantern, Onagraceae) glowed in sandy spots. Lupinus arizonicus (Arizona Lupine, Fabaceae), was blooming on the most exposed hillsides, but was largely still in bud.



Palafoxia arida (Spanish Needle, Asteraceae) Mentzelia invulcrata (Bracketed Blazing Star, Loasaceae), and Mohavea confertiflora (Ghost Flower, Plantaginaceae) are three beautiful species that were just beginning to flower.



My biggest identification surprise of the trip was this Nicotiana clevelandii (Cleveland’s Tobacco, Solanaceae), a somewhat uncommon species that I found in the shade of a Fan Palm Oasis. I had assumed it would be the more common Nicotiana obtusifolia (Desert Tobacco, but the unequal sepals (which you can see in the picture) and the unlobed leaf bases (which you can’t) give it away. This is why you always check the keys!


Flowering catci are one of the best features of the desert spring, and two of the several species in the park were blooming: Ferocactus cylindraceus (California Barrel Cactus, Cactaceae), and Mammillaria dioica (Fish hook Cactus, Cactaceae). They look somewhat similar when placed side-by-side, but the former is the largest cactus in the park and can grow taller than a person, while the latter is an adorable little plant only 20 centimeters tall.


My favorite plant of the trip was the one I was most specifically targeting, the Desert Lily, Hesperocallis undulata (Agavaceae)


This plant has shockingly large, pleasant-smelling flowers, and was amazingly common in desert flats. A field of desert lilies is worth the price of admission alone (the park is free, by the way). It’s a perennial related to Agave, that stores water and nutrients below the soil in a bulb. I dug one up so you can see the whole plant–most of the stem is underground (don’t worry, I replanted it after!)


Okay, round two next week.


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