After years of drought conditions, heavy rainfall this winter created a “super bloom” of wildflowers across the desert regions of California.
From the Carrizo Plain in the north to the deserts in the south, native flowers are blooming at a level rarely seen, and nature lovers are taking notice. Anza Borrego State Park, for example, was filled to capacity, and the local desert town was nearly overwhelmed by the amount of visitors.
Sally Theriault, manager of the state park’s visitor center, estimated nearly 90,000 people came through the center in March alone. Gas stations running out of fuel, restaurants running out of food, and jam-packed parking lots were a weekly occurrence for the park.
“Traffic was backed up for seven miles at one point,” said Theriault. “Highway patrol even closed the road down the grade. I don’t know if that has ever happened before.”
Even for more populated areas like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, the bloom is quite super. A variety of wildflowers have turned once barren patches of dirt and grass into orange, purple, and yellow landscapes so vibrant they are visible from space.
Plants such as the California poppy, golden yarrow, and California morning glory cover entire hill sides and meadows, creating a carpet of flowers still blooming thanks to continued showers. In some places, the flowers are so plentiful that hikers don’t even need to bend down to smell them. Their aroma is so strong it fills the air, creating an ambience powerful enough to fight its way through any allergy-stuffed nose.
Arid regions, like the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, experience a more gradual, “rolling bloom,” that comes in waves across the area. Although the desert bloom is arguably the most striking and most talked about one on social media, its glory is short lived. Due to the quickly rising temperature, almost all of the flowers in the lower parts of the desert valley are now gone and what remains is certainly not a floral carpet, according to Theriault.
While certain low-lying washes and canyons still hold flowers, the tough, rocky soil of desert highlands isn’t as suitable for fragile flowers like the poppy.
At higher elevations the bloom is just getting started. Cacti, shrubs, and trees are all still producing flowers. This bloom may not have the astonishing scale of others, but it is unique and beautiful nonetheless.
The super bloom of native wildflowers this spring did more than create a sensation on Instagram and Snapchat. A bloom so intense has serious ecological benefits. It has the power to replenish a depleted seed bank after years of drought or deposit new seeds in areas previously degraded by wildfires or erosion.
Wildflowers also provide a habitat and food source essential to their ecosystem. More than anything, though, the super bloom is a reflection of California’s dynamic climate.
Only four California counties are still under the 2014 State of Emergency declared by governor Jerry Brown. This year’s wet winter replenished the dwindling Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is currently over 180 percent of its normal capacity. The rainfall refilled reservoirs vital for agriculture and residential water supply. Santa Barbara County has experienced 140 percent of its average rainfall to date and Lake Cachuma is healing after a 58-year low before this winter.
Although they provided a welcomed break from last year’s dry winter and hot summer, the heavy rains and accompanying super bloom this year are not a sign the drought is over. They are a reminder of what California is at risk of losing if current climate trends continue.