Tuesday, June 13, 2017

California Spring Extravaganza 3. Anza Borrego

The sand verbena (Abronia villosa) reached its peak in mid-March this year,
but there were still a few patches in the flats north of the urban pocket.
A desert is the last place you might expect to find luxuriuous carpets of colorful wildflowers, but
wildflower enthusiasts know that the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park provides one of the "biggest shows on Earth."  Under the right circumstances, that is.  The area is indeed part of the Colorado Desert, and by definition, a desert is an area of low rainfall that supports only a sparse woody vegetation and very brief appearances by annual and perennial herbs.  Most of the year sees no rain at all, but for a few
Coming into the desert from the west, the mountains are colored yellow by the desert brittlebush, Encelia actoni (Asteraceae).  We saw a similar, related species in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Encelia actoni, close up. Photo by Gretchen Craig.
months in the winter, rainfall can be abundant.  It is by no means consistent, but once every decade or so, Anza-Borrego gets a good soaking, and a large stock of dormant seeds, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes are awakened.

So it was in the winter of 2016-17.  After years of drought, southern California was hit by one of the rainiest years ever, so much so that damaging floods occurred in many areas.  The peak of the bloom comes earlier in the lower, warmer, Colorado Desert than in the Mojave and Antelope Valley to the north .  So by timing our visit to hit the wildflower extravaganza in Antelope Valley, we
Phacelia minor was also in the mountains as we
came across from San Diego.
arrived at the Anza-Borrego party a little late.  However a wildflower season is an affair lasting several months, and there was still much to see in the Colorado Desert. This time, we were joined by my sister Gretchen who lives in San Diego.
The desert chicory,  Rafinesquia neomeicana (Asteraceae) is one of the many
wild relatives of lettuce and dandelion found in California.

Finding  a delphinium  in the desert was a great
surprise.  I associate this genus with cool
temperate climates. This is D. parishii, adapted for
life in the desert, though it does only grow during
the winter and spring like most of the annual and
perennial herbs here.
Krameria bicolor (Krameriacae) is a shrub that is inconspicuous most of the year.
We did miss the desert lilies, evening primroses and much of the sand verbena that I reported on earlier (see California's desert in bloom), but we did get the peak of the cactus bloom, plus much  more, as compensation.  The cacti, in fact, deserve a post of their own, which will follow shortly.
The chuparosa, Justicia californica (Acanthaceae)  adds a rare
splash of red in the desert.

Peritoma arborea (Capparaceae) is called bladder  pod, for obvious reasons. 
Cryptantha sp. (Boraginaceae)
Senna armata, a shrub in the legume family.
Emmenanthe penduliflora, another member of the
prolific Boraginaceae.
Nama demissa (Boraginaceae)
Monoptilon belloides, the desert star.

Desert sunflower, Geraea canescens, puts on a big display in the Anza Borrego flats, even though a bit past its prime here.

Allionia incarnata (Nyctaginaceae), trailing windmills
Chylismia claviformis (Onagraceae), brown-eyed 
primrose, is a member of the evening primrose
The desert poppy, Eschscholtzia minutiflora, is a diminutive relative of the
California poppy.
The tiny desert monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii 
Psorothamnus schottii (Fabaceae), a shrub with deep purple flowers.