It's spring, and that means wildflower season in the Sonoran Desert.
The exceptional amount of rain that we've experienced during the winter months, continuing through last week, means the wildflower bloom should be most impressive this year, according to Russ Buhrow, curator of plants at Tohono Chul Park.
"The north end of Picture Rocks Road where it goes through the pass into Saguaro National Park West is looking exceptionally green, so I think it will have a lot of flowers," Buhrow said. "Also, the Redington area and the San Pedro valley got a lot of rain and they are way ahead of us here in the Tucson area. The poppies were blooming there a week ago and there'll be a nice mix because there are between 20 and 30 different species of wildflowers out there."
Buhrow noted the region closer to Phoenix got a lot more rain than the Tucson area. He added that north of Phoenix up into the Black Canyon area "it looks like a lawn on the ground," according to some reports he's received.
"Central Arizona also could be outstanding for wildflowers," he said, "and Southern Arizona will be good, too."
Temperatures, which Buhrow called moderate during the past winter, also have an effect on wildflowers.
"The temperatures will affect what comes up," he said, "so you might see a mix of owl clover and poppies, depending on the changes in temperature. Also, we didn't have any hard freezes during the entire winter, but most of the wildflowers that live here don't care about freezes — many, like penstemons, can freeze solid and then thaw in the sun. They adapt to conditions."
Buhrow said Tohono Chul Park's display of wildflowers also will be excellent.
"The park will be great — this will be one of the better display years for wildflowers," he said.
He's expecting California poppies, Mexican gold poppies, purple mat, desert bluebells, scarlet pimpernel weeds, purple bells, wild beans, plenty of varieties of penstemon, New Mexico thistle, tidy tips, desert chicory, wild onions, baby blue eyes and lupines.
Buhrow said the normal peak for wildflower blooms is between the 25th of March and early April.
"But it hasn't quit raining on us and the temperatures have been cool, so the plants came up late," Buhrow pointed out, "so we might see the bloom shifting back two or three weeks to early to mid-April. As long as it's raining, it will push the bloom back, but then the displays will get more and more intense because the plants have so much more to work with. They'll get bigger, make more flowers and the carpet will be denser."
Buhrow thinks the desert is set up nicely to show plenty of Mexican gold poppies.
"They can be dazzling displays when viewed from far off," he said. "It will be gold everywhere, simply vistas of them. I've also seen owl cover and tidy tips with that kind of display, which can give you a fairy-land feeling when there are fields of them. We could have some of that this year."
Tohono Chul Park turns 25
Learn about its history, its offerings and its future in Spring Home and Garden, a special Explorer section inside this week's edition.