Autumn is a ways away, but one of its gifts is actually all around us at present. It is springtime now, and though not fall leaves, there is remarkable color to be had in the Sonoran Desert. Many desert spring wildflowers actually germinate in the fall. Autumn rains and autumn temperature patterns lay the blueprint for spring’s bloom. So why not hunt for desert spring's color now, another gift of autumn.
On a banner wildflower year, I have heard desert guides say, “This year, we have seen flowers that even we don’t recognize, things we have never seen before.”
Fun as that treasure hunt sounds, flower-hunters need not rely on the rare. More common golden poppy, blue lupine, purple owl clover and orange sherbet-colored globe mallow delight passersby.
I sat down on the desert floor, so that all the heads of the blue lupine lined up at eye level. Together they became a wave of cornflower blue. Each blue blossom on the stalk of the lupine, to me, resembles praying hands.
Desert flowers around Phoenix can be enjoyed roughly February through April, with additional cactus blooms (such as Giant Saguaro) in May. Be aware of snakes and bees, watching and listening as one walks, and protecting against strong sun. The red flags of ocotillo may appear more than one time during the warm season.
Those who would dismiss a desert, particularly the Sonoran, as “barren” or a “wasteland”, just from a few glances out a car window, have not yet explored its true characteristics.
Having served as a desert guide (mainly for stormchasing) for European film crews, I recommend looking at the desert two ways…from high above, where one can get a sense of its labyrinthian vastness and sky, then intimately, close up with the plant, rock and flower.
The eagle view, from plane or mountain summit, of which there are many accessible, married with ground level observance will reveal relationships between earth and sky, monsoon and mountain, season and subtlety. Sonoran Desert explorers will learn of two rainy seasons, winter and Monsoon, how lightning will cause a fire, burning away dead brush, allowing for nutrients to help spring wildflowers thrive.
The desert will reveal itself as an interconnected, magical world, where perfection is prerequisite to survival. Exquisitely small leaves, cleverly miniscule and oil-shined to prevent evaporation, are dotted with attractive blooms. A tripod and camera’s macro setting can capture them. Or, spring is the perfect time to set up an easel and make an oil painting on site.Bursts of color will change with the phases of spring. Roughly, spring begins with delicate wildflowers and the greening of hills. See blue lupine, poppies, and soft ankle-high purple fluffs of owl clover. There may be desert marigold, blue dicks, pink penstemon and white desert chicory. Bushes then bloom, chupa rosa's small red trumpets, creosotes, brittlebush’s sunny yellow and ocotillo, resembling long wands with bright red candles on the ends. Cactus flowers, some as big as a human hand, burst forth as spring’s Acts I and II of wildflowers and bushes come to a close, and the cactus flowers of Act III open up.
Sonoran spring is a picture, a kaleidoscope view into which one can get up close and personal in a colorful, sensual world.