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By: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

People come to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park from all over the world to see the annual wildflowers, which can start blooming as early as mid-February. Here is a guide on what to look for on your next visit to this fabulous California state park in San Diego.

Road Guide to Places to Look for Plants

  • County Road S-22 (Ranchita to Salton City): Little Surprise Canyon, Borrego Palm Canyon, Borrego Springs, Desert Gardens, Coyote Mountain
  • County Road S-3 (Borrego Springs to Highway 78): Glorietta Canyon
  • Highway 78 (Banner to Trifolium): Mine Wash, Hawk Canyon, Elephant Trees Area
  • County Road S-2 (San Felipe to Ocotillo): Rainbow Canyon, Fossil Canyon

Suggested Times for Enjoying the Flowers

  • Spring - But don't overlook the other seasons either: summer, fall, and winter.
  • During or immediately after a rain - Get out and enjoy the air when it’s filled with the aroma of the Creosote Bush.
  • Two weeks after a rain - Watch for new green leaves on Ocotillo branches. Look for fields of yellow Chinchweed in the desert valleys and red Fringe Amaranth in mountain fields.

Plants to Look for by Location

  • In desert valleys - In spring, everybody's favorites include Dune Evening Primrose, Desert Chicory, and Desert Sand Verbena. But don't overlook such plants as Ghost Flower, Desert Star, Rock Daisy, Thick-Leafed Groundcherry, and the many members of the Sunflower Family.
  • In mountain foothills and above - In general, plants in the higher elevations do not blossom until late spring or early summer. Desert Apricot, Desert Agave, Froebell's Four O'Clock, Chamise, Wolf's Cholla, and California Juniper are among the favorites.

Other Plants to Look For

  • Fragrant plants - Indigo bush, Sweetbush, Dune Evening Primrose, Desert Sand Verbena, Desert Lily
  • Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) - Our most noxious plant, a non-native

The Desert in Bloom

Why does the desert bloom so sporadically? Most spring wildflowers in the desert are annuals--they live out their brief lives in a matter of months, then die. They must be sown from seed anew each year like garden annuals. Seeds of desert annuals are quite particular in their requirements. If the soil is too dry because not enough rain has fallen, they won't germinate. If the soil is moist, but the winter has been too cold or too warm, they won't germinate either or may germinate only in low numbers.

During some years the combination of moisture and temperature is just right for certain wildflowers but not for others. In other years a small area will burst into gorgeous bloom while the surrounding countryside is relatively barren. But in the finest years, when the temperature and rainfall requirements of many species have (at long last) been fulfilled, entire counties seem a mass of bloom, and the air is filled with the buzzing of bees and the clicking of cameras.

It's said that such an ideal year comes once every five or ten years. Spring wildflowers have also adapted to the desert by growing only during the time of year when most of us love to be in the desert. Their brief lives are an adaptation to the harsh demands of survival in the desert.


It is important to know that many plants in the Southwest are protected by law and may not be cut or dug up. All cacti, yuccas and agaves are protected, as are ocotillo and many wildflowers that grow from the bulbs. In parks and monuments, all plants are protected. Remember, no plant will thrive in your hands the way it will thrive in its native soil. Enjoy, but do not pick.

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