A sea of annual wildflowers blankets the slopes along the Smith Springs Trail.
NPS Photo - Cookie Ballou
The biological diversity within Guadalupe Mountains National Park is outstanding and includes more than 1000 species of plants. While many of these are common desert species such as ocotillo and prickly pear cactus, others are found only in the park and nowhere else in the world.
In part, the amazing diversity can be attributed to significant geographical variations in an extremely rugged landscape. Steep-walled canyons, highcountry ridge tops, wide-open expanses of desert lowland, and lush riparian oases provide opportunity for unique and contrasting life zones that span across thousands of acres with over 6000’ of elevation difference.
Plants that grow here are tough. They survive not only the components that make up the landscape, but also the extremes of temperature, aridity, and relentlessly powerful winds, all common factors of the park’s desert climate. Plants have evolved elegant methods of tolerating or avoiding desert conditions. Some such as cactus have thick fleshy stems that store water, and spines that not only serve as fierce armor against predators, but also help reflect the sun’s radiant heat. Many species avoid desert extremes by clinging tightly to limited but dependable seeps and shaded springs. Annual wildflowers that grow here avoid the drought altogether with a compressed, complete life cycle – from sprout to seed – that occurs only in conjunction with summer’s monsoon rains.