The 2017 Sonoran Desert's super bloom wildflower season is peaking in some areas in March, but there are still abundant wildflowers to see for many more weeks to come north, south, and all around Tucson, Arizona. The plentiful wildflowers are a result of a mild and wet winter. Cacti are also just starting to bloom. Bernie and I are enjoying the mild weather and the colorful wildflower displays in Arizona before returning to Colorado’s High Country. Below are four wildflowers and one cactus that stand out from their surroundings and are easily spotted on hikes or along roadsides.
One of the most common wildflowers seen along roadsides and in patches along hillsides or even blanketing acres of the desert floor, is the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica. This member of the Poppy Family, Papaveraceae grows from 2 to 16 inches high and blooms from mid-February through May. The flowers grow singly on long stems and consist of 4 yellow to orange cup-shaped petals. Leaves are small and fern-like and basal (grow at the base of the stems). A unique feature of the poppy is that it opens in full sunlight and closes at night or when it is cloudy or overcast.
Another wildflower that stands out in the desert area because of its shape and size is the Desert Chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana. This member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae) grows in gravel and sandy desert flats usually under the shade of shrubs. The white flowerheads, 1 to 1 ½ inches across, consist of rectangular ray flowers with blunt tips of varying lengths with 5 small lobes. Plants grow from 6 to 20 inches high on weak, flexible stems with a few grayish green leaves in thin lobes around the base and with smaller upper leaves alternating around the stem. Desert Chicory blooms from late February through June.
Desert Globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, is also often seen all along Highway 79 from Tucson to Florence, Arizona. These plants, from 20 to 36 inches high, grow in large clumps with bright orange-red flowers in wand-like clusters. Grayish-green leaves are covered with white hairs and are deeply veined, 3-lobed, with scalloped edges resembling maple leaves. The leaves of this drought-resistant member of the Mallow Family, Malvaceae, are grazed upon by domestic sheep and goats and also Bighorn Sheep. Globemallow blooms mainly in March and April.
Goodding’s Verbena, Verbena gooddingii, forms showy flat clusters of many small violet to pink flowers. Each flower has 5 notched petals. Leaves are dark, grayish green, arrow-shaped and divided into lobes with toothed margins. They are attached oppositely along square stems. This desert shrub is dependent on rainfall and is common on slopes, and along roadsides and washes. Gooding’s Verbena attracts butterflies making it a favorite Arizona landscaping plant that blooms from February through October. Plants grow from 8 to 20 inches high.
There is one cactus blooming now in Arizona that has outstanding blossoms. Claret-cup Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, forms a mound of brilliant funnel-shaped scarlet blooms that are pollinated by hummingbirds. This small barrel-shaped cactus forms from a few to hundreds of spherical to cylindrical light-to bluish green densely spiny stems in roundish, large, dense mounds. Plants grow in gravelly soils in grasslands, shrublands, pinyon/juniper, or aspen communities. Interestingly, Claret-cup Cactus grows in the Rocky Mountains, too, and was named the official State Cactus of Colorado in March, 2014.
Although these wildflowers are found in Arizona, there are many similar or same species found in Colorado. The Claret-cup Cactus and California Poppy are native to Colorado and there is a similar species of Globemallow that are featured in Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide along with over 265 other flowers. This guide and Nature-themed products are available at www.HighCountryArtworks.com