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Dry Winter Means Sparse Desert Bloom In Anza-Borrego

Credit: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

This undated photo shows what the Anza-Borrego Desert looks like during a banner wildflower year.

This time of year, wildflowers often paint the Anza-Borrego Desert floor in a vibrant array of colors. But so far, 2016 has not turned out a strong desert bloom. The plants are small and the blossoms are sparse.

“Every once in a while you come across something that’s blooming,” said Sally Theriault, manager of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center.

“I think there are going to be flowers for people who want to get out and really look for them, but it’s not going to be a banner year like some years, where there’s just fields of yellow sunflowers kind of waving in the breeze,” Theriault said.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

A fishhook cactus flower is shown in Torote Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Feb. 16, 2016.

Aired 2/17/16 on KPBS News.

If you're willing to do a some hiking, you'll find wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. But so far, this winter’s high temperatures and lack of rain are keeping most of the flowers at bay.

It takes a perfect combination of frequent light rains and temperatures below 85 degrees for vast fields of desert annuals to bloom in the desert park two hours northeast of San Diego. This winter’s ongoing high temperatures and lack of rainfall in the desert have kept the flowers at bay.

“Most of the plants have germinated and they’re growing,” Theriault said. “They’ve come up, but they’re really small.”

Theriault had high hopes that El Niño storms would produce a bumper crop of wildflowers, following four years of drought. Nearly 2 inches of rain fell in early January, but since then it has been mostly dry.

Without more moisture, a few possible scenarios could play out over the next month, Theriault said.

“One is that the plants will bloom fairly soon, while they’re still small, in response to the really hot weather,” she said. “Another possible scenario is that they’ll just wither and die and not bloom.”

A third, less likely outcome is a significant amount of rain will fall over the next week boosting plant growth and leading to a desert floor full of color.

For now, Theriault said, the best opportunity for flower hunters is along the canyons.

“If they hike in canyons, they will see things blooming, especially on the shady walls,” she said.

For wildflower updates, go to the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association website.

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