Desert wildflowers are abundant in Southern Arizona this Spring and are filling the hillsides at Catalina and Oracle State Parks. The plentiful wildflowers are the result of a wet winter. Here are some wildflowers and blooming bushes that one can easily see now.
California Poppies can cover whole hillsides and sometimes mixes with Lupines for brilliant color displays. Their yellow to orange cup-shaped flowers consist of 4 petals. Lupine has dense spiked clusters of blue flowers and leaves that are palmately divided into 5 to 9 leaflets. Brittlebush blooms from November to May and can also cover whole areas along the roadsides and hillsides. This member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae) grows in gravel and sandy desert flats.
Another blooming bush-like plant is the Fairy Duster with blossoms of dense clusters of pink stamens resembling fireworks. This native shrub grows from 8 to 20 inches tall and is a member of the Pea Family. Ocotillo is indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and for much of the year looks like a bunch of spiny dead sticks. However, with rainfall, it quickly transforms and is covered with lush small green leaves. Bright crimson flowers appear after rain in spring, summer, and sometimes in fall.
Pointleaf Manzanita is an evergreen shrub up to 6 feet tall that has clusters of pink flowers shaped like inverted vases. Leaves are dark green and leathery with pointed tips. The branches have smooth, reddish brown bark. These shrubs are especially abundant at Oracle State Park.
Here are some more flowers one is likely to see in the Catalinas. Blue Phacelia is an annual shrub of the Waterleaf Family (Hydrophyllaceae). There are over 100 species of Phacelias in the western US and many have coiled, scorpion tail arrangement of the flowers that are characteristic of this species. Tuber or Desert Anemone can have white, pale pink or pale violet flowers 1 ½ inches across on upright stems. Leaves are finely dissected into toothed leaflets. Blue Dicks or Wild Hyacinths have clusters of 2 to 15 pale blue, pink or purple flowers with 6 petals. Two small flowers that look similar at first glance are Red Maids and Red-stem Filaree. However, they are two different families and while Red Maids are Native, the Filaree is not. Red Maids have succulent lance-shaped leaves and are in the Purslane Family; the black seeds are edible. Filaree or Stork’s Bills, have leaves in flat basal rosettes with pinnately cleft leaflets and are in the Geranium Family. The seeds look like a stork bill and can be hazardous to animals as their sharp tips can tangle in fur. The plant itself is poisonous.
Be prepared for identifying and enjoying the wildflowers that will soon be appearing in Colorado. 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 all 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.