Bloom or bust, 2018 wildflower season is here

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2018 wildflower season is from February through April. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News) 2018 wildflower season is from February through April. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News)
Florence-Kelvin Hwy near Riverside, 2008. (Source: Steve Dockstader) Florence-Kelvin Hwy near Riverside, 2008. (Source: Steve Dockstader)
The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum hosts a variety of colorful blooms. (Source: Kat Rumbley) The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum hosts a variety of colorful blooms. (Source: Kat Rumbley)
Florence-Kelvin Hwy near Riverside, Arizona. 2008 (Source: Steve Dockstader) Florence-Kelvin Hwy near Riverside, Arizona. 2008 (Source: Steve Dockstader)

Every year, wildflower lovers look forward to the spring blooms with great anticipation. The seasonal renewal of life offers fragile patterns of color spread over the desert. 

Usually, the window of opportunity can be brief, and in some years the right factors don't come together at all, leaving the desert void of the seasonal color the blooms bring.

This year, the wildflower season is looking less than stellar for a great spring bloom. Won't be like the super bloom of 2008 or 2013, those were years when everything came together in just the right manner. The factors that play a part of the process can be elusive, water and timing are everything.

Nursery Horticulturist with the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, John Wiens says the flower forecast for most locations around southern Arizona was not very good this year.

"I haven’t seen much of anything in the Tucson Mountains, yet. I’ve heard there are Mexican Gold Poppies blooming in Catalina State Park," said Wiens. "We may get lucky and find hot spots with wildflowers this year, but I think they will be few, and far between."

Every year, the right components have to come together to create conditions for a good bloom, Wiens says the formula for fantastic flowers can be tricky.

"The best wildflower years start with a big rain event sometime during October to mid-November," Wiens goes on to explain, this rain has to come when the summer temperatures have broken and soil temperatures have dropped enough to allow seeds to germinate. Then, regular rains are needed until spring to sustain the seedlings.

This past winter our rain totals between November and February were about a quarter of what we receive in an average year, far below what is needed for the seedlings to flourish.

[RELATED: Drought conditions have returned to Arizona]

Since flower sightings can be hit or miss from season to season, it's always nice to have an ace in the hole with blooms easily seen at locations like the Desert Museum or Boyce Thompson Arboretum, where within a comfortable environment, flowers, and the wildlife that's attracted to them, can be seen in their natural beauty.

"We’re having a spectacular bloom of some species of wildflowers at the Desert Museum," said Wiens, "I’ve never seen such a bloom of Parry Penstemon. We also have Desert Marigold, Goodding Verbena, Chuparosa, Brittlebush, and others. It is an absolute oasis for hummingbirds!"

It should continue this way through March, with new species blooming as we go into April, said Wiers. 

  • Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum
    2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743
    Fee: $24.95 General Admission (ages 13-64), discounts for seniors, children, active military and Arizona Sonoran residents.
    Phone: 520.883.2702

Paul Wolterbeek at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, near Superior, also sees the 2018 wildflower season as a poor one. "Occasional rain these past two weeks have definitely been a blessing, but rainfall is too little and too late for widespread wildflower color."

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum has been around since 1924 and is Arizona's oldest and largest botanical garden. "We irrigate sections of our gardens and visitors are already seeing penstemons, apricot globemallow and other flowers along our 1.5 mile main trail," said Wolterbeek.

The arboretum will host a guided wildflower walk March 17 and 18, with another four wildflower walks scheduled in April.

Wolterbeek says, "Don't expect widespread and camera-ready color, but you will see more species in bloom each week as the season progresses, and the chance to see and photograph unusual native plants such as wild cucumber and rhyolite bush."

  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum
    US 60 mile post #223 near Superior Arizona
    Fee: Daily admission $12.50
    Phone: 520.689.2811 (Recorded information) 520.689.2723 (Gift Shop)

A good online resource for updated wildflower sightings are the desert wildflower reports posted on Desert

One recent posting from early in March touts the gold poppies that are just starting to bloom in the eastern part of the state near Claypool, located between Globe and Miami. 

There are also reports posted from late February of flowers in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument located in the far southern part of the state, southwest of Tucson. Yellow flowers are in bloom. Both the brittlebush and creosote bush are blooming within the monument's boundaries.

The site has plenty of information on wildflower sightings and webmaster, Jim Bremner, encourages updates from flower flowers. You'll also find tips on the best way of photographing flowers.

A nice long day trip along the SR 88 Apache Trail can also yield some wildflower results.

The historic road takes you 40 miles on an adventures path from Tortilla Flats, past Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and finally reaching the Roosevelt Dam and Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Along the way the desert reveals it's beauty with ample places to stop for a break, or spend the night camping. 

[RELATED: What's in a name: The Apache Trail]

If you're looking for a few more options, here a list so you can go and enjoy the blooms, where ever you find them!

  • The Desert Botanical Garden
    1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
    Fee: $24.95, $12.95 for ages 3-17
    Phone: 480-941-1225
  • Catalina State Park
    11570 N. Oracle Rd 
    Tucson, AZ 85737
    Fee: $7 per vehicle (1-4 Adults), Individual/bicycle: $3.00
    Phone: 520-628-5798
  • Picacho Peak State Park
    Eloy, AZ 85131
    I-10 Exit 219
    Fee: $7 per vehicle (1-4 Adults), Individual/bicycle: $3.00
    Phone: 520-466-3183
  • Cattail Cove State Park
    Lake Havasu City, AZ 86405
    15 mi. S of Lake Havasu on Hwy 95
    Fee: $10 per vehicle Monday - Friday (1-4 Adults), $15 per vehicle Friday - Sunday and holidays
    Oversize Parking/Day Use (55' or longer): $10 additional per day
    Individual/Bicycle: $3
    Phone: 928-855-1223
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California)
    Located Off Interstate 10, East of Palm Springs/Indio, California
    74485 National Park Drive 
    Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
    Features -2018 Weekend Wildflower Tour

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