Underneath the poppies at Peridot Mesa (Photograph by Paul Gill)

Despite a somewhat rainy November and December, the desert has been dry as a bone for the first three months of 2012.  Some areas, including Phoenix and its surroundings, have not seen a measurable drop of rain this year!

No doubt the lack of much needed precipitation has affected the annual bloom this season.  Though we saw an extremely early and rare poppy bloom near Superior and Globe, we’re seeing a low-to-nonexistent bloom in typically reliable spots.  Without new moisture in the near future, we could also see a low-to-non-existent perennial bloom as well – meaning the globemallow, brittlebush, and lupine might not show their beautiful colors well this year either.

So all together now, everybody do a rain dance!

Peridot Mesa shadows (Photography copyright Paul Gill)

Here’s what we’ve found in our most recent wanderings…

Current Hot Spots:

  • Peridot Mesa on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation is still miraculously showing smaller carpets of Mexican gold poppies on the inner basin and northern slopes, but the area is starting to seed out.  So stop reading this blog and go out there RIGHT NOW if you want to photograph this area this year!  It’s on its way down….don’t forget to pick up the required $10 permit from the Circle K in Globe before visiting Indian lands.
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum has spotty poppies sprouting near the Cactus Garden and a broad mix of wildflowers in the Desert Garden in the Demonstration Garden.  Many cactus and succulents are just now starting to show some blooms.
  • Desert Botanical Garden has an abundance of Parry’s penstamon, brittlebush, lupine, blanketflower, and a few Texas Mountain Laurel trees – which smell like grape soda! – in bloom.  Did not see much in the way of cactus blooms yet, but it’s still early to see buds.

Peridot Mesa (Photograph copyright Paul Gill)

Showing, but Just “A’ight”:

  • Some blooms past the saddle on Happy Camp Road near Peachville Mountain area.
  • Gonzales Pass showing healthy Parry’s penstamon and desert globemallow
  • The white albino poppies were still showing along FR459 at Bartlett Lake this past Sunday, as were scattered chuparosa, brittlebush, lupine , scorpionweed, and owl clover; I could count the number of chia we saw on one hand.  Continue driving past the saddle and look for the dirt pullouts on the left side to find the limited set of flowers.  Be sure to pick up the Tonto Pass at the Ranger’s Station or Bartlett Lake Marina before parking along the road.

Not Happening:

  • The Mexican gold poppy show at Peachville Mountain and Silver King Mine Road is done on the east side.
  • The rangers at the Lost Dutchman State Park are reporting some spotty flowers along the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail. While I did not have the chance to hike that trail on Friday, the lower elevations close to the parking areas are barren of wildflowers, save for a few bunches of fiddleneck.

    Lupine and poppy buds (Photography copyright Paul Gill)

Rumor Has It…(We’ve not seen, only heard from others):

  • Catalina and Picacho Peak state parks are reportedly still showing Mexican gold poppies and an array of other flowers right now, thanks to a little bit of rain in the Tucson area in January.  Keep your eye on the Arizona State Parks Ranger Cam at azstateparks.com/rangercam/index.html for the most up-to-date sightings for these and other state parks.

Happy shooting,

~Paul and Colleen

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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