January 2006 Spring of 2005 was a banner year for desert wildflowers, making headlines on national news, and drawing crowds to our open spaces for a glimpse of color during what is mid-winter for much of the country. By mid-January a year ago, the Phoenix metro area had been blessed with weekly rains every week since mid-October, tallying well over the annual average of 7.5 inches. The soaking rains are the kiss of life for seeds of desert wildflowers which need a good six weeks of moist soils to germinate and grow strong enough to begin the annual flowering display by mid-January.
Here in the Deem Hills, we have some of the best annual wildflower displays in the area. No need to take a two hour drive to famed Pichaco Peak or 4-wheel into the Superstitions. A walk out your front door will easily lead you to bountiful slopes of poppies, lupine, owl clover, over four dozen other native species of annual and perennial wildflowers, and three dozen species of trees, shrubs, and cacti. One of the best areas to explore are in the saddle at the end of Deem Hills Parkway, between Stetson Hills and the new development of Stetson Valley. Another is along the Deem Hills ridge trail that that meanders along the crest of the preserve all the way up to the highest point at 2098 feet.
Alas, fall and winter rains thus far this season are on the drier end of the spectrum compared to last year, characteristic of the “boom and bust” cycles of precipitation in the Sonoran Desert. Still, you can count on discovering some wildflowers no matter how little rain has come. Hearty desert annuals will thrive with what moisture there is in refuges on the north sides of shrubs, trees and boulders. Perennials such as desert hyacinth and wild four-o-clock will have a shorter, less abundant display, but the fittest will survive to flower and set seed. Flowering shrubs like Brittlebush, Desert Lavender, and Ratany will always find energy to bloom, even if there is next to no rainfall.
Below are photos just a few of the species you are likely to find. For a full checklist of plants found in the Deem Hills, see the right-hand column of this blog page. Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) Ironwood (Olneya tesota) Fishhook Cactus (Mammilaria grahamii) Ratany (Krameria erecta) Desert Wishbone (Mirabilis laevis) Desert Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum)
Since May 2005, I have written a natural history column for a neighborhood newsletter published by Jennifer Moore called "Our Big Backyard: Natural History of the Deem Hills," and since 2010, "A Suburban Naturalist."All of these columns are reproduced here. Deem Hills is a City of Phoenix Desert Preserve located just north of Happy Valley Road in north central Phoenix, and just west of I-17. The Preserve and adjacent hills comprise over 900 acres of open space with several miles of hiking trails. For more perspectives from the Deem Hills and suburban Phoenix, also check out my companion blog, Kat Tracks.
As a naturalist with a special interest in botany and plant ecology, some of my greatest passions are to explore, photograph and write about native plants. If I can spark an awareness or interest in natural history in others along the way, that is my greatest reward.