It's wildflower season and conditions this year may be just right to bring “super blooms” to life in parts of California and the southwestern USA.
Super blooms are a relatively rare floral phenomenon, even in places renowned for vibrant native wildflowers. But after a winter of extremely heavy rain, California’s desert landscapes are expected to briefly burst into brilliant carpets of color in springtime — revealing nature at its most spectacular as seeds that have laid dormant for years burst into color en masse.
Depending on the park, visitors may see colorful California poppies, sand verbena, desert sunflowers, evening primrose, popcorn flowers or desert lilies. In recent years, areas like the Anza-Borrego Desert and Carrizo Plain National Monument saw a massive burst of flowers that drew hundreds of thousands of eager visitors. Could a similar event be repeated this year?
Though a super bloom is not guaranteed, Jorge Moreno, a California State Parks spokesperson, tells Lonely Planet that officials are “cautiously optimistic in expecting a ‘good’ to ‘better than average’ wildflower bloom in late winter and spring seasons, depending on the continued weather conditions.”
Where can I view super blooms this year?
In 2017 and 2019, California’s Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area were carpeted in miles of confetti pops of color. The flowers covered such vast areas that the transformation could be seen from space.
Whether those events will be repeated in 2023 is hard to say, despite the current optimistic outlook. While parts of southern San Diego are already in full bloom, officials say it is impossible to predict precisely where, when and if wildflowers will bloom elsewhere this year. Cold weather or a hot spell could stop an intense bloom from happening. Some shows might be modest if they do occur. And others could be over as quickly as they began – as in Death Valley National Park, where most wildflowers are referred to as “ephemerals” because they are short-lived.
“Some areas in the extreme southern part of San Diego County are already blooming, and future desert weather and temperature shifts, especially in February, may help or hinder the expansive wildflower spread,” said Moreno. “If the weather shifts to warmer and drier days, the annual winter bloom may be over in a few short weeks.”
While super blooms are generally confined to desert areas of California, Nevada and Arizona, they’re not the only places where you can spot wildflowers in bloom. Drought-free winters typically result in pockets of bright flowers popping up in destinations across the United States, starting in February in desert landscapes and lasting until fall in alpine climates.
How to view super blooms responsibly
When the event last occurred, tens of thousands of visitors flocked to state parks in a wildflower tourism boom. The rush created problems like significant road closures and traffic jams. In Los Angeles, shuttle busses were deployed in Lake Elsinore during 2019’s super bloom to manage traffic. At the same time, Walker Canyon was temporarily closed when crowds became too big to handle. Some parks even reported habitat damage from people going off trail to take photos, trampling on fields and flowers in search of the perfect shot, and pulling up wildflowers to create bouquets and crowns. In 2017, Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County was forced to close trails temporarily due to wildflower losses.
Amid growing crowds, California state park officials created a hashtag in 2017, #DontDoomTheBloom, with tips on how to view the wildflowers responsibly. To summarize: don’t trample on the flowers, don’t pick the flowers, tread lightly in the desert, stay on designated trails and keep the parks pristine.
While many wildflower tourists are well behaved, California State Parks is again asking to help protect these unique natural resources, especially when the state sees significant blooming.
“California State Parks welcomes all to enjoy the wildflowers, and, in the interest of safety and conservation, asks visitors to please respect the iconic landscapes and be knowledgeable of the area, weather, and their body limitations,” is the message being shared with visitors this year.
Detailed information with safety tips and predictions on where super blooms will occur this year can be found on California State Park’s website.