It may not be as dramatic as chasing tornados, but pursuing the explosion of wildflowers each year can bring as many wows. Tornados are weather events produced by a coincidence of forces and conditions–temperature, rainfall and wind–which, although they occur in the extreme, are the same forces and conditions that wildflowers respond to. The difference is degree.
Rainfall for 2013, between 3 and 4 inches, remained well below what San Diego’s desert region usually requires for a “Wildflower Season.” Unfortunately, this year only those plants with the best water retention strategies could afford the energy to bloom for any length of time. The windy conditions of April, 2013 further dried out stored water resources in plants.
The most consistent show is put on by cacti. Their flower cups are protection from the wind, in fact certain bee species are often seen settling in for the night. They can moderate their water resources effectively, producing only a few blooms in dryer years and fireworks in rainy years. The best cactus shows occur at elevations of 2,000–3,000 feet in the Anza Borrego State Park, based on the number of plants generally seen.
In the best years for wildflower viewing, rainfall occurs at just the right times and frequencies and, as mentioned, the wind is a major player because of its drying effect (it can also prevent flying pollinators like bees and birds from getting around effectively). As far as what’s seen where and when, there is a general correlation between bloom and elevation. Lower elevations generally produce first, which would include areas around Ocotillo Wells (elev. 0–400 feet). This can happen in late February, and two months later at elevations of 2,500–4,000 feet.
Gallery 1: Wildflowers from previous years
Click on any thumbnail below to enter the light box and slide show with optional comments panel. Photos by Lee McComb