Spring Blooms Around Phoenix, Arizona
Finding spring wildflower and cacti blooms near Phoenix, Arizona
The diversity of the flora in the Sonoran Desert landscape around Phoenix, Arizona shattered my preconceptions of a desert. Instead of a barren flat sandy expanse of land, mountains and valleys contain a variety of plants in different shapes and hues of green.
The Sonoran Desert is the most complex desert in North America. Its bi-seasonal rainfall pattern results in more plant species than any other desert in the world. In spring time, its bursts with magical spots of colour as wildflowers and cacti bloom. This usually runs from sometime in March through June, depending on the plants and seasonal temperatures. I’ve spent several springs in the Greater Phoenix area. Each year, it was a delight to see the blooms begin.
In this post, I share information on the blooms and my favourite spots for seeing them.
About The Blooms
Sometimes the wildflowers start to appear in late February, but typically it is mid to late-March and continues into early May. A few of the many varieties of wildflowers and blooming shrubs you’ll find in this area are desert marigold, fairy duster, desert paintbrush, desert bells, brittlebush, yellow cups, and Mexican poppies, my personal favourite.
The Mexican poppy is classified as a subspecies of the California poppy. Differences between the two are minimal. Once considered a separate species, the Mexican Gold Poppy is now considered a desert-inhabiting subspecies of the California Poppy. The California poppy has yellow-orange blooms. Mexican poppy blooms are yellow.
The ocotillo plant is indigenous to the Sonoran desert, but you are most likely to see it planted in front yards and on boulevards.
The palo verde tree is neither a wildflower nor a shrub, but I am making note of it here because of its brilliant yellow flowers in spring. It is stunning to look at, but it is also messy as the flowers fall to the ground. A word of warning: If you are at the mall and looking for some shade to park your car under, bypass the palo verde tree in bloom unless you want to return to a tree covered in yellow. Don’t even think about leaving a convertible with the top down under the tree.
It continues to amaze me how the formidable-looking cacti plants produce such delicate blooms in rich, vibrant colours. There are numerous variety of cacti and their flowers bloom at different times in the year. Spring is the most common time. March through June are peak periods to see cacti blooms in Arizona. The cactus featured in the above photo is a prickly pear.
Edible fruit appears on the prickly pear after the flowers die. That fruit is often made into jam. You will often find jars on sale in tourist shops. Read more about the fruit in my post Cooking With Prickly Pear And Mesquite In Arizona.
The saguaro cacti, with its slow growing arms, is an iconic symbol of the Southwest. The Sonoran Desert is it only natural habitat. The white blossom of the saguaro is the state flower of Arizona. The flowers are found near the top of the stems and arms. Flowering typically begins in the latter half of April and continues through to the end of May. That can vary, however, depending on the conditions in any particular year.
Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours. The flowers open at night and stay open for the next day or part of it. You have a better chance of seeing a saguaro bloom in the morning than in the late afternoon. If you want to read more saguaros and see more photos, see my post Saguaro Sampler.
A Note About Superblooms
Superblooms are a rare and beautiful phenomenon that occurs when an unusually large number of spring wildflowers bloom simultaneously in desert regions. They are mostly a California desert occurrence, but they do occur in other states, including Arizona. A superbloom year is the result of a combination of factors, including rainfall, temperature, and other environmental factors.
If you are in the Phoenix area during a superbloom year, the Lost Dutchman State Park located in the rugged Superstition Mountains east of the city may be a good spot to view this stunning display, as may many of the spots listed in the Other Places To See Spring Blooms section of this article. Check local news sources to find out where the wildflowers are showing up.
Desert Botanical Garden
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is dedicated to the display, study, and understanding of desert plants with an emphasis on the Southwestern United States. It is worth a visit at any time of the year. In the spring, you’ll find many flowers and cacti in bloom.
You’ll find blooms throughout the garden, but the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail is the spot to take in a profusion of spring blooms.
For more information about the Desert Botanical Garden, read my post Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Located an hour outside of Phoenix at Superior, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden, holds collections of desert plants from around the world. Situated on 343 acres in upland Sonoran Desert, the natural setting and mountainous backdrop make the arboretum a special place to visit anytime throughout the year. It is a delight in spring when wildflowers and cacti begin to bloom. (Note: the photo at the top of this post was taken at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.)
The cacti garden is a personal favourite spot in the arboretum, with wildflowers of various colours blooming among the cacti. You may also find some of the cacti in bloom.
To read more about the Arboretum see my post Appreciate the Desert at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Other Places To See Spring Blooms
There are a number of other parks and trails in the Greater Phoenix area where you can see spring blooms. South Mountain Park and Preserve, Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, Piestewa Peak, McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Lost Dutchman State Park, and Usery Mountain Regional Park are a few of those spots.
Also look for flower and cacti blooms in smaller parks throughout the area. Brinton Desert Botanical Garden, at Park of the Canals in Mesa, is a small botanical garden with free admission. Read more in my post Mounds and Canals: Hohokam History in Mesa, Arizona. Many local neighbourhoods also maintain small parks. While they may not be spots to see flowers in the wild, chances are good for viewing some beautiful cacti blooms.
For more information on finding spring blooms in the Phoenix area, see this article by Visit Phoenix. DesertUSA maintains a wildflower guide.
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The desert can be surprisingly colorful.
Ken, it sure can be.