Depending on the weather and the amount and timing of the preceding winter's precipitation, spring wildflowers here in the Sonoran Desert can be either abundant enough to carpet the ground with color or sparse and hard to find. Happily, 2008 appears to be one of the better years for spring wildflowers here. Some of our most spectacular spring wildflower displays are those of golden-orange-flowered California or Mexican Gold Poppies (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana).
A good place to see these golden-orange California Poppies is in Picacho Peak State Park north of Tucson, Arizona.
From mid-February through March in years with sufficient winter rains, blooming California Poppies and other wildflowers will carpet large areas of the ground in Picacho Peak State Park. I visited the park on February 23, 2008, and there were already large patches of blooming California Poppies on the upper slopes below the peak. Due to unusually dry winters, spring wildflowers like these California Poppies have been rather scarce here in southern Arizona for the last couple of years, so it was delightful to see them finally blooming again in such large numbers.
The golden-orange-flowered California Poppies native to southern Arizona used to be considered a separate species, the Mexican Gold Poppy (E. mexicana), but they are now considered to just be a smaller, yellower-flowered subspecies of the larger, orange-flowered California Poppy. California Poppy flowers only fully open on sunny days, and the four-petaled flowers of this subspecies range in color from solid golden-orange to golden yellow with an orange center.
Both of these flower colors are common in Picacho Peak State Park, and I even spotted a rare white-flowered California Poppy there as well.
The Saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea) in Picacho Peak State Park looked quite scenic amidst the spring carpet of golden-orange poppies. The photo below shows a range of different Saguaro life stages, from young and small, to mature with multiple arms, to a standing dead Saguaro with splayed ribs.
Although a few of them will remain standing for a while, most Saguaro skeletons are found on the ground, like this bleached gray one surrounded by cheerful California Poppies.
Even though the California Poppies were by far the most conspicuous, I did spot a number of other spring wildflowers in Picacho Peak State Park, some of which were just beginning to bloom. Here are some of the other spring wildflowers that I observed in Picacho Peak State Park:
- Cleftleaf Wildheliotrope (Phacelia crenulata)
- Common Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii)
- Lyreleaf Jewelflower (Streptanthus carinatus)
- Mojave Lupine (Lupinus sparsiflorus)
- New Mexico Plumeseed (Rafinesquia neomexicana)
- Steve's Dustymaiden (Chaenactis stevioides)
- White Easterbonnets (Antheropeas lanosum)
Some wildflowers like Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) will bloom there a bit later in the spring. Unlike some drier deserts, Arizona has a fairly long spring wildflower season, with a succession of different plant species blooming from mid-February through May. Cool season wildflowers like California Poppies and Lupines are best observed in the very early spring well before they are wilted by the desert heat of April and May.