desert wildflower blooms

Ephemeral desert wildflower blooms are extremely difficult to predict because of many variables. Unfortunately little research has been conducted, therefore the "most favorable" conditions required for blooming remain varied or unknown. Of what little is understood, timing of rains and temperature appear to be two of the most critical variables.

wildflowers, jet streams and "el nino" debunked

The much over rated "El Nino" factor is less an influence than the important prevailing jet stream patterns for that winter season. Southern California has extremely variable precipitation from year to year, a season where the upper level winds of the jet stream have been in a "zonal flow" are more conducive for regular precipitation than a season of an "alpha omega" pattern with its blocking high pressure. Some of the desert's best and wettest years have been seasons of no El Nino, while some of the driest occurred during strong El Ninos. Preparing months in advance by watching radar echoes and taking notes of areas that look promising is helpful. Most important, a good rainy season doesn't guarantee a good display of flowers, changes in cryptobiotic soils, insects species or seed cycles may dictate what kind of bloom will take place. Patience and humor are two good virtues to start out with.

Wildflower landscapes are technically one of the most difficult subjects to photograph, extreme depth of field views require long exposures and factors such as constant winds, moving flowers and variable cloud lighting/metering play havoc against the landscape photographer. Taking time to discover how the quality and direction of light makes a world of difference on the way flowers read on film or digital sensors is priceless. California Poppies require a temperature of 65 degrees or warmer to fully open and only for a few hours during the sun's zenith. Cloudy skies or high winds will scare poppies into hiding for days on end. Evening Snow is a phlox that opens at sunset and closes the following sunrise.

two desert environments

The majority of this portfolio is shot in the higher elevation of the Mojave deserts. With its colder winters and snow the spring bloom runs from mid March to mid April. Meanwhile the deserts of the Sonora are much lower/warmer and have an earlier bloom season around mid February.

spring-blooming annuals must germinate in the autumn

The "critical window" is probably between late September and early December, but varies with different species and different deserts. The controlling factor is temperature. A "triggering rain" of at least one inch must occur during this autumn window, the earlier the better after summer heat is beneficial to the Sonora while late season precipitation seems to encourage the Mojave. Triggering rains at other times of the year such as in summer seldom produce carpet blooms.

The triggering rain must be followed by regular rains or snow totaling at least an inch of water per month till March-April, a minimum season total of at least five to seven inches, eight or more are better. Basically a spectacular wildflower bloom requires either an unusually rainy or consistently wet season.

spectacular, widespread shows occur about once in 20 years

Good or better displays occur in localized areas perhaps every three or ten years; these may be in remote regions and go unnoticed. When they occur, the bloom usually lasts two weeks at a given location, waxing and waning as different flowers reach their peak. Some seaons the bloom may be shortened to a few days if high winds or warm temperatures play havoc.

To read internet postings on current wildflower sightings, these sites may be of help: Calphoto, Desert USA.

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desert wildflower blooms information