Borrego Springs shopkeepers prepared as well as they could to handle the visitors expected to drop in for the Borrego Valley wildflowers of 2017. Based in part on weather predictions of lots of rain, which turned out to be fairly accurate–and lessons of the past, namely the 2005–2006 rainy season which had brought tens of thousands to the town’s restaurants and stores–fears for a repeat brought about careful preparations.
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Traffic at 100x normal on Highway 78 to see the wildflowers, March 11, 2017.
Yet, already by mid-March, the liberally planned-for reserves were being depleted. What has been most surprising has been bumper-to-bumper traffic snarls on the four access roads entering and leaving town, even during mid-week.
If you are looking for a remedy to the crowds, arrive as early as you can, including midweek visits, but prepare yourself for lines at the restaurants at any time.
As April approaches, the “peak” is thought to have been passed for the massive swaths of flowers in Borrego Valley, but other blooms are just beginning such as the cacti and flowers at the higher elevations of the Anza-Borrego State Park, like Blair Valley.
The photos on this page were taken in mid-March, 2017.
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Borrego Wildflowers, 2017, Gallery 1. Photos and captions by Barbara Swanson.
The uncommon desert five spot
The telltale reddish-brown stalks and leaves of the seldom-seen Desert Five Spot, Eremalche rotundifolia, precede its pink, globular flowers which open in the morning and close in the afternoon.
Easily found in the Borrego area with the 2017 spring rains, the bright magenta monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii, can dominate sandy washes and the edges of bajadas. This little cluster found refuge under a boulder near the trailhead to Alcoholic Pass loop.
A desert five spot closing
The spherical flower cup slowly closes for the night after its pollinators have retreated, starting about two hours before sunset. It is a strategy to preserve vital energy and moisture for the next day.
Caterpillar on evening primrose
A single bud of the California Evening Primrose, Camissonia californica, is about to meet a white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar. Before becoming a hummingbird moth, it will pupate in the desert sand until the time is right. Then, Hyles lineata will emerge to zoom back and forth around its plant food, hovering in flight like a hummingbird.
Brown-eyed Primrose Chylismia claviformis, the most prolific flowering plant brought by the 2017’s rains, provides the subtle, pale crème carpeting of the Borrego Valley seen at its best along the DiGiorgio Road and Henderson Valley Road strips. The color may not be flamboyant, but is no less beautiful than the fragrant evening primrose and the verbena trying to compete with it.
The stunning desert lily Hesperocallis undulata sprouts in the sandiest areas of the Borrego Valley. It is sometimes the only plant seen growing on a sand dune. It seems almost funny that it belongs to the asparagus family and, surprisingly, is also closely related to the agave plant.
The open cup of a desert five spot
The five spot makes for an attractive stranger in a bouquet of forget-me-nots.
A pollinator’s job…
…is not such a bad one! A desert sunflower, Geraea canescens, provides a nice workplace for a bee covered in pollen. The desert sunflower is a good drought survivor and will always put on a big orange and yellow show when the rains return.
The crown of a mammillaria
One of over 200 species of “pincushion cactus,” Mammillaria doica, reaches a full wreath near Yaqui Wash Primitive Campground.
Sphericles of fluorescent pink verbena
Needing moist, porous sand, the Desert Sand Verbena, Abronia villosa, is a resilient plant that easily takes up residence in washes and flats, even along roadsides. It often outnumbers any other flower, as may be seen in the Henderson Valley Road and Peg Leg Road areas.
Pollinator or predator
A would-be pollinator peers into the seemingly vast center of a desert sunflower, Geraea canescens.
Borrego Wildflowers, 2017, Gallery 2. Photos and captions by Lee.
The Desert Five Spot, Eremalche rotundifolia
Desert Five Spots are challenging to hunt for in Anza Borrego. A small stand of them was found at the base of the foothills south of Desert Gardens near the trailhead to Alcoholic Pass loop.
The Desert Five Spot Cup
A globular cup helps to preserve the plants vital energy by opening and closing at the most efficient times of the day for pollination and preservation of the available water in the plant’s cells.
Desert Canterbury Bells, Phacelia campanularia
As the scientific name indicates, Canterbury bells are a phacelia and can can cause contact dermatis for those allergic to it. One of the most beautiful plants of the desert, this photo was taken in Plum Canyon at roadside in mid-February.
Canterbury bell Phacelia campanularia, close up.
A heavily budded beavertail cactus
Anza Borrego’s cactii show began in March and should go into May. This beautiful specimen in Plum Canyon promises the best year since 2006 for beavertail, hedgehog, prickly pear and several varieties of cholla.
Desert Sunflower, Geraea canescens
A fresh bud promises to be the next rising star on a desert sunflower plant on March 11, 2017, seen from the Henderson Valley Road viewing area. Coyote Mountain is visible to the north.
Looking southeast across the Mine Wash bajada
The view is toward Sunset Mountain from a turnout on Highway 78. Mine Wash is to the right. This scene would have included an Indian trail 175 years ago, seen when the earliest non-natives trekked cross the bajada for the first recorded time.
Desert Sand Verbena Abronia villosa exhibits its wonderful hemispherical inflorescence, creating a geodesic arrangement of flowers, perhaps to accommodate more pollinators.
Borrego Wildflowers, 2017, Gallery 3. Photos and captions by Lee.
Blue Phacelia, Phacelia distans
Blue Phacelia, also called Wild Heliotrope or Scorpionweed, can be allergenic upon skin contact, like poison oak or poison ivy.
Blue Lace Phacelia
“Blue Lace” is another popular name given for this flower, and certainly the attribute of lace looks fitting.
Buds and flowers of creosote, Larrea tridentata
The creosote bush, sometimes called greasewood, is certainly among the hardiest of desert plants. Honey bees go for them, producing honeycombs of the same bright yellow color as the flowers. Creosote plants crowd other plants out, and can be allergenic. Older creosote plants can yield clonal growth which, over time, spreads into a ring pattern of plants. One such ring in the Mojave Desert is nearly 12,000 yeras old.
Brown-eyed Primrose Larrea tridentata
The pinkish edges of the flower are a natural color change as the blooms age.
Coulter’s Lupine, Lupinus sparsiflorus
The reaching, sleek lupine is seen above other flowers across a flat desertscape. The rich blues and purples become darker with age. Look for the bloom at the top, the banner. Its color changes from yellow to red upon pollination.
Desert Globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua
A white-petaled mallow is less commonly seen than the apricot version. A food source for some native peoples.
Bigelow’s Monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii
Bigelow’s Monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii
Bee in a desert sunflower
The external reproductive structure of the desert lily, Hesperocallis undulata
A desert lupine, Lupinus sparsiflorus
The darker purple flowers at the bottom would seem to indicate that the flower is aging from the bottom up.
Desert Lupine, Lupinus sparsiflorus
The light coloring of the petals may indicate a recently bloomed plant, or possibly what is known as a “sport” (a color mutation).
Curviliear mud cracks in a streambed
Although not a wildflower–but near a prodigious carpet of evening primrose west of the Borrego landfill–an interesting contraction of the drying silt and clay of a streambed has caused unusual curling, possibly owing to differences in mineral content, such as salt, according to depth from the surface.