The most vibrant wildflower bloom in two decades is expected over the next week or two in the Anza-Borrego Desert, located two hours east of San Diego. The same rains that drenched San Diego this winter are turning the barren desert floor into a carpet of color.
Since December, nearly 6 inches of rain have doused the desert — twice as much as last year. Dozens of species of wildflower plants have sprouted, and their bright colored buds are beginning to open.
“The classic field of color plant out there is the dune verbena,” said Clayton Tschudy, director of horticulture at the Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College. “It can cover whole fields with purple, and when you stand out there you can smell its sort of sweet delicate scent.”
Tschudy said his favorite bloom is the desert lily.
"It's something you'd never expect to see in a desert," Tschudy said. "It’s a bulb, but sometimes the bulb can be 3 or 4 feet down in the sand, and when the conditions are right it will shoot up ...and then put on this incredible lily bloom."
Other early bloomers include yellow desert sunflowers, woolly Indian paintbrush and the Parish poppy.
Tschudy, who is leading a desert wildflower tour this weekend, said creating a perennial paradise in the desert takes precise weather conditions.
“The perfect ingredients for a banner bloom come when we get winter rains and early spring rains periodically so the soil never fully dries out,” Tschudy said. “And when the temperatures are around 50 and up without getting so hot that it kills off the young seedlings.”
Tschudy said the best place to see the flowers is near the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center. The center offers maps for self-guided wildflower tours and a Wildflower Hotline — 760-767-4684 — that provides daily updates.