Spreading Like Wildflowers

Determined little wildflowers on South Mountain

For those of you wondering what’s happened to Onelookout the past week or so, I have a one word answer: Spring! Sandwiched between the relatively chilly winter months and the blistering heat of summer, Phoenix has several weeks of splendid weather. During these heavenly days we shut down the heat pumps and throw open our windows. Deliciously cool air wafts in carrying the eerie hooting of great horned owls at night and the soaring whistle of mockingbirds by day. We sit outside and relish the warm sun on our backs, and we garden! If there ever is a time to chip out a planting hole in the cement- like desert soil, this is it. We hike, we bike, we bring out colorful Mexican hammocks and hang them in the yard.
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.


2 responses to “Spreading Like Wildflowers

  1. Laurie Topping

    Hi Gail, I hiked Telegraph this morning and a few flowers are coming in. Nothing like the past couple of years but still very welcome color!

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