When Can I See the Desert in Bloom?

There is no single "best time" to see desert wildflowers, as different types of plants bloom at different times. At White Sands National Monument, flowers bloom later than those in the surrounding desert foothills, due to the pool of cold air from the mountains that settles into the basin at night.

At White Sands:

Annual wildflowers: Most begin blooming around the middle of April. The most common early bloomers in the dune field include the sand verbena, yellow evening primrose, scorpionweed (phacelia), and the greenthread. Some individuals may continue to produce flowers throughout the summer, especially after monsoon-season rains.

Pepperweed, a white-flowered mustard that is often overlooked, grows throughout the residential area and dune margins. It is the hardiest wildflower in the Park. It is the first plant to bloom in the spring, usually around March first, earlier in the warmer years (January 9th in 1996). It blooms throughout the summer and into the fall. Pepperweed has been seen in flower in the Park in every month of the year.

Cactus: The claret cup hedgehog cactus flowers for about three weeks. The red flowers start appearing in late April and extend through mid-May (approximately April 25 through May 15, but this varies from year to year). The ones around the Visitor Center will usually bloom a week or so earlier.

Chollas bloom much later than the claret cups. Cane cholla (the tall, branching cholla with magenta flowers) usually blooms in mid-May, about the time the claret cups are fading. Christmas cholla usually blooms in early June.

Yucca: Soaptree yucca begins blooming in late May and extends through about mid-June. The tall species of yucca that grow in front of the Visitor Center are not native to the Park, but they bloom much earlier, usually in late March.

Cottonwoods: The trees in the residential areas bloom in early March, and the first leaves appear in early April. The time of fall color for the cottonwoods is usually the last week of October through the first week of November.

Fall wildflowers: A number of flowers do not bloom until after summer rains. Starting in late August, a number of yellow-flowered members of the sunflower family begin to bloom, including rabbitbrush, jimmyweed, and prairie sunflowers. Tall purple-flowered asters and orange-flowered globemallows are also fall bloomers. Depending on the weather, they may continue blooming into November.

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