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Wildflowers Blooming In Anza-Borrego

Wildflowers Blooming In Anza-Borrego

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The usually sleepy town of Borrego Springs comes to life in the month of March, when desert blooms pop up and draw tens of thousands of visitors to the area for a look at the colorful wildflowers. KPBS Reporter Sharon Heilbrunn takes us on a tour of this often-overlooked slice of San Diego County.

SHARON HEILBRUNN (KPBS Reporter): Borrego Springs is about a two-hour drive north east from the city of San Diego, but many San Diegans have never been there. This time of year, it's worth the road trip, to see what the small town is most famous for — it's desert flowers.

JERI ZEMON (RANGER, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park): These are the ones that spend most of their lives as seeds in the ground and with the right amount of rain, they come up and produce these spectacular blooms, if we're lucky. This is a unique season, because it is an El Niño year and the rain has actually made it over the mountains from San Diego to the desert more than once now. The last few years we've been in a drought like most of Southern California, so it's been pretty poor for the wildflowers. But now everything is greened up, and ready to pop open.


HEILBRUNN: I ventured deep into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with Park Ranger Jeri Zemon to find these elusive flowers.

ZEMON: So we’re going to take a look at one of the most photographed flowers in Anza Borrego, and that’s this beautiful, lavender one right here. This is the San Verbena. It has a wonderful fragrance, sometimes in the evenings it comes out. And what's interesting is, you're not just looking at one flower on the head, but each individual flower is actually three flowers in one. So it's definitely one of those flowers that shows up in all the postcards and calendars and people really want to see this one. And right now its just starting to open up and as it gets warmer and warmer and we get more rain, even, it will just spread out more and cover big fields in some places.

So now we're going to take a look at couple of the early blooming flowers that are members of the sunflower family. This white one is the desert chicory and next to it is the desert dandelion. People think ‘Oh dandelion, not a big deal’ but actually, these are unique to the desert. They have a red dot in the center which identifies them and both of them really attract butterflies. So they’re really important for the pollinators that visit the desert. It's amazing because when there are several flowers on each flower head so when an insect does visit them they're actually pollinating several flowers at once when they visit one flower head. And that's a unique feature of the sunflower family.

HEILBRUNN: Jeri, what should people wear when they come out here?

ZEMON: It's always a good idea to have a hat for sun protection. A lot of people want to wear shorts of course, but it's a really good idea to wear long pants and definitely shoes, when you're exploring out in the desert, because there are sharp spiny things that can get caught on you. Definitely you can wear a short sleeve shirt but you should definitely have sunscreen.


HEILBRUNN: What's this flower right here? This tall, purple on?

ZEMON: This is a lupin. The way to recognize it is first by the leaves actually. We call it palming, so like the fingers coming off of your palm. And then these beautiful purple flowers. And it's a member of the pea family, so eventually when these flowers pollinate it will put out a little pod. But in the meantime, it has actually two colors, purple and this little yellow dot in the center. And that happens after it's pollinated.

HEILBRUNN: That’s one of my favorite flowers. I like it. The blooms will peak in mid-March and last until about the end of the month. The best time to explore the desert flowers is when the temperature is in the 70’s and the sky is clear and sunny.

ZEMON: If it is overcast, sometimes the flowers won't open up that day, so that is key and important, to look at the forecast.

HEILBRUNN: Zemon recommends starting at the Visitors Center, near the park entrance, to pick up information about the desert. Besides bringing the obvious necessities, like water, sunscreen, and a hat, Zemon suggests also packing tweezers and a fine-toothed comb for those unexpected run-ins with a cactus.

ZEMON: This comb, they can flick away a cholla ball, and they can use the tweezers to pull out the spines.

HEILBRUNN: There are hiking trails in Anza-Borrego, but the best way to see the desert is to channel your inner explorer.

ZEMON: A lot of the hiking in our park is off trail, it's just going up washes and arroyos and exploring on your own the canyons and such. And don't be surprised if you meet some wildlife along the way.

ZEMON: I think people are amazed at how much diversity there is here. I think people expect there to be a vast wasteland, but actually they'll see roadrunners, lizards, big birds, rabbits, and if they're lucky, big horn sheep, which is our endangered species. The park is named after the Borrego.

HEILBRUNN: If you're feeling adventurous, you might want to stay in town a big longer.

ZEMON: Borrego Springs, it's a hidden gem of San Diego. I think it's just an amazing little town, that has a lot of things to offer. Some people come here to golf and relax, other people do want to come to bird watch and hike and explore the desert. But one of the greatest things is just silence, and the starry skies at nighttime are just phenomenal. That's something you can't get on the other side of the mountain in San Diego.

HEILBRUNN: If you're not sure what to look for, stop by the Vistiors Center and pick up one of these pamphlets for a dollar. It describes the flowers you might see when visiting this desert environment. We want to know if you've been to Anza Borrego to look at the flora. Log onto and leave us a comment. For KPBS, I'm Sharon Heilbrunn.