Hesperaloe bloom. Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Paul and I spent the past two weekends at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum teaching our annual “Wild about Wildflowers…and Macro Photography” workshops. A huge THANKS to all who attended and treated us to so much beauty through their own lenses. Lots of good laughs too!

At the arboretum, the Demonstration Garden has the best set of blooms so far, as the perennials like penstemon, coral aloe, Godding verbena, mescal bean (which you have to smell…smells like grape soda!), and a variety of barrel cactus are starting to show their beautiful colors. The Cactus Garden is also coming along, but will display a stronger cactus bloom in the next few weeks. There, we spotted desert marigolds, spiderwort, and even a couple of Mexican gold poppies, lupine, and globemallow.

It’s no surprise that we’re seeing a lack of annuals based on the lack of rain we’ve had this winter. Perennials, however, are showing how they are less affected by low precipitation and will likely continue to bloom over the next several weeks. Places like Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Desert Botanical Gardens, Tohono Chul, and Tucson Botanical Gardens will offer plenty of wildflower photography opportunities as spring turns into summer in the desert.

Near Gonsalez Pass to the west of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the ocotillo are greening up, and small splashes of color from fairy duster, lupine, and brittlebush dot the desert landscape. Silly Mountain looks brown and burned out–not sure if even the normally reliable brittlebush bloom will happen here this year…

While Paul and I have been busy teaching, we’ve heard rumors of roadside flowers along Highway 60 south of Wickenburg and brittlebush off of Highway 17 north of Anthem. Also, there are reports of several locations in Tucson in bloom per this recently published article: http://tucson.com/thisistucson/5best/tucson-is-blooming-insta-worthy-spots-to-stop-and-smell/article_76700fd0-3132-11e8-b19c-9bd1681345bf.html.

Let us know what you’ve seen out in your wildflower explorations!

The poppies are coming!  The poppies are coming!Mexican Gold Poppy

While some northern states are still buried in snow, it’s almost 70 degrees here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona (gotta love winter in the desert!). Thanks to some healthy rains in November and December (not so much in January though), combined with mild but warmer temperatures, we’re starting to see wildflowers in the desert already.

Poppies, like the one on the right from a couple years ago at Florence Junction, are beginning to pop up along the roadsides, as are blooms of globemallow, brittlebush, and desert marigolds. The result of human hydroseeding efforts, these early bloomers suggest the wild bloom may be just around the corner…on the early side if this weather continues…

Our good friend, Paul Wolterbeek at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park reports:

“Check out Peachville Mountain (north of Superior, AZ and best accessed from the Silver King Mine Road off highway 60)  over the next two weeks for hillsides of Goldpoppies — from 5 miles away you can already see the first west-facing hillsides turning orange-gold. Poppies are blooming now, but peak color should be 10-14 days ahead. Judging from the size of the hillside swaths I saw today – could be breathtaking by next week (maybe even this coming weekend).

Lesquerella, also known as bladderpod. Photo courtesy of Paul Wolterbeek.

Today I hiked a section of Arnett Canyon south of Boyce Thompson Arboretum with my co-worker Gonzalo, who lead me to a nice (though small, isolated and remote) hillside of goldpoppies. Photographed ‘em with charismatic saguaros in the background. Not my best poppy JPGs ever, but still my first for 2012 so I’m pleased! Red Maids and Henbit were abundant, we also saw a few scattered Firecracker Penstemon, Bluedicks, Bladderpod (both yellow and the “purpurea” variety with white flower clusters); Blackfoot Daisies – and even Desert Lavender. One Desert Anemone growing in the volcanic rocks down by the dry creekbed was a welcome surprise. Blooming flowers were few, but unusually early this year for our elevation (2,400 feet); Gonzalo pointed out abundant lupine, phacelia and other annuals that will flower over the coming weeks. Spring’s already looking good!

Photographers: if you go, please be careful and walk lightly – don’t trample small shoots that are coming up, Feb. 8 is still quite early in the season, with many flowers yet to bloom – so please tread lightly over all the lupines-to-be, phacelia, mallows and others that aren’t showy yet, but soon will be.”

Wolterbeek – who’s definitely as wild about wildflowers as we are!! – also kindly sent us a list of the first signs he’s seen of spring within the state park, which included:

  • “Marah gilensis (WILD CUCUMBER), all over the park – watch for skyward-reaching vines and coiled tendrils the plant uses to climb above host plants it uses as ladders to reach sunlight. clusters of starfish shaped flowers now will turn into fruit shaped like a medieval mace.
  • Crossosoma bigelovii (RHYOLITE BUSH, aka ragged rock flower), a cool shrub endemic to areas with volcanic rock, rhyolite, such as you find with our towering volcanic cliffs at BTA that are remnants of picket post mountain’s volcanic past. rhyolite bush is flowering strong this week, in fact many are at peak now — early this year.
  • Lycium exsertum (TOMATILLO), larger shrubs all along the main trail which began flowering back in January – and are at peak right now.  Flowers are tubular and downward pointing — worthy photo ops when they’re being worked by native bees. watch for little red berries on these shrubs in a month or so.
  • Simmondsia chinensis (JOJOBA), a member of the boxwood family, and a common desert shrub known for the coffee-bean-sized brown seeds you can snack on if you’re hiking a desert trail from may-through-july when ripe. you can’t easily tell the sex of these plants during fall and winter – but its obvious now when they’re flowering. many of these are at peak at BTA now. flowers are nondescript, green and unshowy – but its an important native plant if you’re into ethnobotany.
  • Lesquerella purpurea (PURPLE BLADDERPOD), the very first of these began blooming this weekend right along the trail up above Ayer Lake. despite the name, look for white flowers.
  • Phacelia distans (PHACELIA, scorpionweed); a member of the waterleaf family, the very first scattered few of these are blooming along the ‘switchbacks’ section of trail down below picket post mansion, just above queen creek. expect to see thickets of this photogenic, fuzzy & blue/purple/violet flower by mid/late February.
  • Ephedra viridis (MORMON TEA), like jojoba, this one’s unshoy and innocuous, but look closely at the flower clusters and you’ll see they resemble pine cones. they’re related.”

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum will start up their excellent guided wildflower walks with Cass Blodgett starting the first weekend in March.  For extra photography help, Paul and I will return to the Arboretum on March 3rd for another round of FREE presentation and photo walks.   For details on these two opportunities, check out http://ag.arizona.edu/bta/.  We also have a full schedule of additional events posted on our Wild in Arizona website at http://www.wildinarizona.com/events.html.

Starting within the next week or so, we’ll start posting field reports based on Paul and my upcoming outings so stay tuned to our blog here!  Another great resource to bookmark is the DesertUSA Wildflower Reports at http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html.

Happy color chasing!

~Colleen

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