Spring is also wildflower season. The Southwest is known for stunning masses of vibrant annual wildflowers, a gorgeous garden tended by Nature alone. Annual seeds of lupine, owl-clover, larkspur, desert sunflower and poppy lie dormant in the soil, waiting for the perfect conditions to germinate. About once every ten years we get the rainy fall and winter that bring about glorious widespread blankets of flowers covering miles of desert. Every three or four years the flowers will bloom vividly in more localized areas. The seeds of these gaudy winter annuals must germinate in the fall. They require a good drenching rain sometime between September and early December, of at least an inch. Then they will need continued substantial rains every month through March. Even then, drying winds may stunt the tiny plants, especially cold winters can inhibit the growth of the seedlings, or a robust population of seed eating animals can spell disaster. Recognizing the exacting conditions make the showy annual displays all the more miraculous.
If the conditions are not perfect, there will still be limited blooming as the plants try to put out a few seeds for the following years. Because of our dry weather, an enormous bank of seeds builds up in the soil, waiting for the well-timed rains and providing food for critters like harvester ants, kangaroo rats and sparrows. We’ve had a dry winter, so this won’t be a banner year. But I’ll be looking for some flowers to share with you.