flowers desert california

Take a trip to see the flowers of the desert in California

As April progresses, so does spring in the desert. An area that is barren and empty-seeming during most of the year is a riot of color at this time of year. Yellow is the favorite in the western Sonoran Desert; since March, sagebrush, buckthorn and other shrubs have been pushing up yellow “daisies” on long stalks, tiny, compact yellow blooms that become fluffy seedpods after a few days, and even tall, catkin-like flowers.

Now, the palo verdes are starting to blossom, and the ocotillos and beavertail cacti…well, we’ll get to those in a moment.

For other colors, you need to look closely at ground level. From microscopic white blossoms to large white cups, wildflowers tuck into the shade of trees and shrubs. You’ll also find tiny purple blossoms if you look carefully enough. Desert flower hunters should walk gently and keep their eye on the ground. (This is a good plan in any case: unfriendly creatures, such as rattlesnakes and scorpions, coexist with more attractive and non-toxic coyotes, owls and kangaroo rats.)

Flowers of the desert in California

Flowers of the desert in California

But now that it’s April, cacti are blossoming as well. Tall ocotillos produce long, upright stems which, in winter, are woody, thorny and bare. But in the early New Year, they start to grow small, oval leaves and then push out stalks from the tips of their “arms.” These stems grow buds, lupin-style, and then over a period of weeks unfurl into red-hot pokers of bright red blossoms. Hummingbirds visit them, attracted to the red and, of course, the nectar.

Beavertail cacti push out large, fat pods like fingers. Each pod bursts to reveal a glorious, fuchsia pink blossom with an almost translucent look. These flowers somehow manage to combine a sense of toughness with their delicate, rose-like beauty.

To find out where your desert wildflowers are growing, chat to staff at one of the Bureau of Land Management offices or at a desert national park. They’ll be able to advise you on safety for this harsh environment. Tread carefully and enjoy the brightness of the desert; take only photographs. And, when you’re done, check out for further floral beauty that you can enjoy at home.