Early Spring, 2019 is shaping up to be a spectacular season for poppies at Picacho Peak State Park and other parks and desert areas in southern Arizona. With plenty of moisture, warm weather and sunlight, the masses of bright yellow and orange Poppies seem to glow with color all along the trails and hillsides. Hiking the many trails offers one awe-inspiring vistas of Saguaro cacti and rugged peaks.
Not only by looking high and in the distance, but by looking low and to the ground, visitors can see many species of wildflowers. The standout of course is the Mexican Gold Poppy, Eschscholzia californica ssp. Mexicana, a cup-shaped flower with 4 petals that are often deeper orange-colored at the base. These flowers, up to 4 inches tall, open only during the daytime when it is sunny and are closed in the early morning or when the sky is overcast.
Along with the groups of Gold Poppies, are often Lupines, Lupinus species. These members of the Pea Family have dense spiked clusters of flowers varying in color from blue to purple and are sometimes bi-colored. Also blooming with the Poppies, can be Notch-leaf Scorpion-weed, Phacelia crenulate, a large plant up to 2 feet tall with many blue to purple- colored flowers and deeply-lobed leaves in varying sizes.
Three white flowers, each with unique blossoms may also be spotted in the parks. Desert Chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, is composed of square-tipped ray flowers with notched endings. Lyreleaf Jewelflower, Streptanthus carinatus ssp. Arizonicus, is an early-blooming flower in the Mustard Family. This unusual flower has 4 sepals wider at the base and fused to form a bell-shaped blossom with 4 smaller curved petals. These plants can grow from 8 to 30 inches tall. Growing lower to the ground is the Desert Pincushion, Chaenactis species, that is a small airy plant that has flowerheads varying in size filled with small 5-petalled flowers.
Another early-blooming flower that grows low to the ground in groupings is Gordon’s Bladderpod, Lesquerella gordonii, a wildflower in the Mustard Family. The flowers have four rounded petals and round, greenish to reddish pea-sized seedpods with pointed tips. Another small-flowered yellow wildflower is the Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia. These weedy plants can form dense patches and can grow usually up to 20 inches tall. The plants are covered with sharp, brittle hairs that can cause skin irritation.
These are just a few of the many wildflowers that one might encounter at Picacho Peak State Park, Catalina State Park, or other southern Arizona desert areas in the early spring.
For anyone traveling to Colorado this summer, Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide by Linda Nagy is the perfect book to take along. Over 285 wildflowers are identified by common, scientific and family names. Although the above wildflowers are not in the book, there are many similar species. The $14.95 guide book is available on Amazon or order from the publisher at www.highcountryartworks.com.