San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

January Wildflower Report

By Judy Gibson, SDNHM Botany Department
Dateline: 25 January 1998, San Diego County, California

Photo of Sand Verbena, Dune Evening Primrose, Brown-eyed Evening Primrose in Borrego Valley, on 25 Jan 1998 by Judy GibsonWildflower season is beginning already in southern California, thanks to the early and repeated rainstorms that have occurred this year. The big question every year is "what's going to happen in the desert?" And the answer this year (as this photo taken yesterday shows) is: The early bloom in Borrego Valley is already better than last year's season, and it promises to get much better yet. Our best advice is to go early, and go often!

Near the Coast

Some of the early annuals, such as Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii), have been reported in coastal regions. Typical early bloomers on coastal mesas, canyons, and slopes are the bulbs and herbaceous perennials, which use last year's stored energy to make an early response to the winter rains.

In the Mountains

With nighttime temperatures below freezing, there is not much happening in the mountains. Some manzanitas are in bloom, as usual, in January, but it's too early yet for most plants.

In the Desert

Last fall's hurricane-related rainstorms brought unusually early soaking rains to the desert, throwing confusion into predictions of what would happen this season. Because of these early rains, many annuals -- which in normal years would not have germinated until January -- sprouted and began to bloom in October! It was not known if these plants, or their progeny, would be around to contribute to the spring display. However, mild temperatures and occasional soakings over the winter have allowed many of them to continue to bloom. When these are joined by other species in February and March, the total display promises to be stunning. Cross your fingers!

Borrego Valley is where the big wildflower news is right now. The deep sand flats north of Borrego Springs, in the area of Di Giorgio Road and Henderson Canyon Road, are already supporting broad masses of blooming annuals, hugging low against the warmth of the sand.

Yesterday a group of us saw -- in full bloom -- Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa), Dune Evening Primrose (Oenothera deltoides), Brown-eyed Evening Primrose (Camissonia claviformis), Dune Sunflower (Helianthus niveus), Lax-Flower (Baileya pauciradiata), Spanish Needles (Palafoxia linearis), and Spectacle Pod (Dithyrea californica). Beginning to show leaves, but not yet in bloom, were Lupines and Desert Lilies (Hesperocallis undulata). The weedy non-native mustards were unfortunately also making a strong early start. Expected at this site, but missing from action so far, were Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), and Pincushion (Chaenactis spp.).

Along the Desert Highways: The trip on S-2 between Scissors Crossing and Ocotillo showed signs of the approaching spring bloom. The shrub species had an occasional individual in bloom, and there were scattered annuals here and there. Forays off the highway (offroad day use permit is now required!) turned up others. In short, a trip to the desert will be well rewarded, but you will have to work for your discoveries.

For more wildflowers, join our Museum's Canyoneer Nature Walks, or use the descriptions of their hike locations to find places to go on your own. You can receive notification of the expected peak desert bloom by placing a stamped, self-addressed postcard in an envelope, and sending it to: Wildflower Notification, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs, CA 92004. The park also maintains a wildflower phone message at (760) 767-4684 (as of this moment, not updated for spring).

Report good wildflower sightings to

Sand Verbena and Dune Evening Primrose - Judy Gibson 1998