Spring Wildflowers at Arizona State Parks

March and April are perfect months to see wildflowers at Arizona State Parks. Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is already getting plenty of flowers while others such as Picacho Peak State Park and Lost Dutchman State Park are still sparse.

This is a perfect time of year to visit Boyce Thompson Arboretum with cameras in hand during these spring months to see the fantastic color and capture the wildflower beauty on film.

Generally speaking there is a surprising amount of early color this year. Wildflowers are already starting to bloom along U.S. Highway 60 from the East Valley to the Arboretum. The short drive is punctuated by native creosote and brittle-bush along with occasional desert marigold.

The park reports that it was blessed with nearly 7 inches of rain during the past four months. Those evenly-spaced, gentle soaking rain showers were good for wildflower seedlings.

With plants in the Arboretum area starting their springtime blooms this early, signs are good there’s a lot more color to come.

Lost Dutchman State Park has recorded 3.50 inches of rain in December and .47 inches in January and may also have great fields of flowers but the different elevations and rainfall all play a role in Mother Nature’s beauties. The park reports that “the photographers usually start arriving with macro lenses and tripods to track down the 63 types of wildflowers starting in February.”

It is the intensity of September-December rains that influence spring wildflower abundance more than any other factor. Generally rains in Arizona this year have been sparse.  It is reported that so far this year Picacho Peak State Park has only received about 3.72 inches of rain.   Many wildflower seedlings will break ground after gushing downpours, but with the limited rain, the crop is still short somewhat. Parks report that usually the biggest flower show is the Mexican Gold-poppies, but the purple Coulter’s lupine, yellow brittle-bush, yellow creosote and orange Globemallow all add to the dazzling array of color that covers the desert mountains.

Picacho Park reports that if it stays cool and rains keep coming this month, the wildflower bloom might get a good foothold, but if we don’t get those heavy rains we may not see the widespread bloom of flowers.  It is reported that the public is already starting to come into the parks. The he hillsides are bright green but the poppies are not showing up yet, it’s too early.   The magnificent abundance of gold-poppies and purple lupine sometimes starts in mid February if the plants get enough water to germinate and the weather warms up.”

In heavy rain years, the wildflowers bloom all across Picacho Peak.  When this happens it looks like the color yellow has exploded across the desert hillsides. Visitors to Picacho Peak can balloon to 5,000 people a day during peak flower season with people driving from around the country just to see the poppies.  As Spring gets warmer, the Mexican Gold-poppies are replaced with yellow brittle-bush and yellow creosote. Later the mountainsides will turn from mostly yellow to purple as the purple lupine starts to overshadow the Mexican gold-poppies and then the cactus flowers will bloom in April and May.

As a photo tip, rangers at the parks recommend a piece of black velvet for photo backgrounds and a magnifying glass to study the tiny bellyflowers.  Wildflower books are available with brochures and maps in rural areas at all the State Parks.  For more information on Arizona’s State Parks’ wildflowers call the hotline at (602) 542-4988 or track the blooms on the RANGER CAM at azstateparks.com/rangercam. State Park rangers use digital cameras to capture the daily changes in the desert as the ground starts to warm and the flowers germinate.   This year you can also track information on TWITTER.com at (user ID AZStateParks) to find out the outlook day-to-day about the flowers in the State Parks.

For more information about Arizona State Parks call (602) 542-4174 (outside of the Phoenix metro area call toll-free (800) 285-3703) or visit azstateparks.com.

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