Scottsdale, AZ – The winter of 2019 will go down as a strange weather year across the country. The midwest is gripped in the freezing effects of the Arctic Polar Vortex which spins around the north pole high in the stratosphere. Apparently, two areas of low pressure and cold air constantly swirl around both the north and south poles, but when the spin of the Arctic polar vortex in the north gets a little wobbly, it can plunge the northern hemisphere into an Arctic freeze. Our northern states have not seen frigid temperatures like these for decades.
At the same time, the Pacific Northwest is blanketed in record snowfall. February, 2019 is already the 16th snowiest month on record in Seattle since first measured in 1894, and we are not even halfway through the month. Storms just keep barreling in off the mighty Pacific, dropping snow, knocking out power and snarling all transportation systems. Clearly, this is one weird weather year.
In the southern desert states, we have experienced more rainfall than usual, but all that drippy moisture has greened up the arid landscape and triggered brightly colored wildflowers to begin winking and nodding early this year. Familiar brittle bush, penstemon, globe mallow and desert marigold were already blooming in great numbers as we celebrated the holiday season. Classic wildflowers such as Mexican poppy, lupine and owl clover are now popping up on steep rocky slopes, and cactus will soon top it all off with spectacular displays of brilliant fuchsia, yellow, orange and creamy white blossoms.
Birds and insects are taking advantage of this rare desert bounty. Hummingbirds, many of whom have migrated great distances to follow the food supply, flit from flower to flower, drinking in nourishing nectar to meet their voracious demand for energy. Bees are already at work, collecting pollen and of course doing their part to ensure seed production and future blooms.
Wildflowers are unusual plants. Most are annuals, meaning they last one season. Unlike perennials, they sprout, grow, bloom, produce seeds and die in a short period of time and their seeds may or may not produce a new plant during the next season. Wind, water and even birds and other animals move the tiny seeds and one never knows where a new crop will emerge, if at all. Wildflower seeds sleep near the soil surface and are only awakened by the right combination of rain, temperature and sunlight.
Wildflower blooms are typically very short lived, with widespread and abundant displays only happening once in a decade. In a good wildflower year like this one, it is critical to get out there and enjoy them before they vanish. Many hikers have favorite spots where wildflowers often make a brief appearance in rainy years. Some folks like to visit local botanical gardens and arboretums where interpretive signs and docents can shed light on the mysteries of each species. Still others like the thrill of the chase and will drive great distances to view prolific wildflower showings.
Word of mouth and regional wildflower hotlines provide real time reports if you are able to just drop everything and go. As always, when you track wonder, be prepared for those spontaneous moments of delight and discovery. Stop and drink in the moment. It won’t last long.
Cultivate Wonder… Discover Design
Desert USA Wildflower Reports – Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah
Arboretum at Flagstaff – Flagstaff Arizona
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Tucson, Arizona
Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum – Superior, Arizona
Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix, Arizona
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – Located in Austin, Texas, but their website is a treasure trove of information regarding all plants native to North America. The facility includes the National Wildflower Research Center.
Tohono Chul Park – Tucson, Arizona
Tucson Botanical Gardens – Tucson, Arizona
Images: SPegany, copyright 2019