The higher elevations of Death Valley are starting to see a great variety of wildflowers blooming. Check along Emigrant Canyon Road between 5,000 ft to 6,000 ft in elevation. Follow the blooming further up in elevation as the early summer continues.
2019 Wildflower Update
As of June 9th, 2019, we are experiencing blooming in the higher elevations of the park. Wildflowers are blooming along Emigrant Canyon Road, between 5,000 ft to 6,000 ft in elevation.
Here is a report from volunteer Birgitta Jansen, taken on 5/24 (so expect the blooming to have shifted up in elevation, depending on the species)
"All in all it isn’t a glorious superbloom but it is a very decent showing. It is interesting how each altitude has its own ecosystem and at the moment it is quite visible which species thrive in the different places. Coming into Emigrant Canyon, there was, two weeks ago, a fabulous display of brittlebushes with continuous Painted Lady butterfly activity. Thousands of them. There are still a few butterflies fluttering about but the flowers are past their prime and likely have little left to offer any remaining insects. But the story changes when gaining altitude. The Death Valley goldeneye becomes ubiquitous. I hope I have it identified correctly – it is a small rounded bushy plant resembling brittlebush but smaller. It is somewhat past its season but still colors patches of hillsides with bright yellow. The yellow mixed in with the deep burgundy red of the hopsage and the intense dark blue of the indigo bush, makes for a vivid show. Then there are the somewhat gangly prince’s plumes, the lovely lavender colored Mojave asters, and the unmistakable red desert paintbrush. Most of these are along the sides of the road and nicely visible even for people just driving by. Coming into the Harrisburg area – just past Skidoo Road and before the road to Aguerreberry Point – it gets even more interesting. The road’s shoulders are covered with apricot (globe) mallow, Fremont pincushion, desert dandelions and more. Many other blooming bushes are visible a little further into the meadows of shrubs.
In Wildrose Canyon the blooming blackbush dominates – again a vivid yellow. Then there is the hopsage and indigo bushes intermixed with many other species. Unfortunately the bright yellow and orange mariposa lilies have gone. This is really a year when it is most rewarding to get out of the car and investigate what is growing. Rattlesnake weed is a small leafed plant close to the ground with tiny little white flowers and spots of dark red. It is lovely when seen through a hand lens. Unfortunately most people do not carry that. But I also found lace-leaf phacelia, turpentine broom, desert dandelion, desert chicory, gravel ghost, golden evening primrose, Bigalow monkey flower, prickly poppy and beavertail cacti showing off their luminous hot pink flowers. At the same altitude where the Wildrose Campground is, I also saw the Panamint plume and much to my delight, a plant I had not met before, the delicately colored white and lavender Panamint penstemon. The Panamint plume and penstemon were along the side of the road that goes down to the Panamint Valley. I did not see the penstemon anywhere else.
You may ask “What about the Panamint daisy?” Well, that plant remained elusive. I checked but no luck."
The park is NOT experiencing a superbloom in the lower elevations of Death Valley.
Death Valley is famous for its spectacular, spring wildflower displays, but those are the exception, not the rule. Only under perfect conditions does the desert fill with a sea of gold, purple, pink or white flowers. Although there are years where blossoms are few, they are never totally absent.
Most of the showy desert wildflowers are annuals, also referred to as ephemerals because they are short-lived. Oddly enough, this limited lifespan ensures survival here. Rather than struggle to stay alive during the desert’s most extreme conditions, annual wildflowers lie dormant as seeds. When enough rain finally does fall, the seeds quickly sprout, grow, bloom and go back to seed again before the dryness and heat returns. By blooming enmasse during good years, wildflowers can attract large numbers of pollinators such as butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds that might not otherwise visit Death Valley.
A good wildflower year depends on at least three things:
Well-spaced rainfall throughout the winter and spring
Sufficient warmth from the sun
Lack of drying winds
Rain is Key
Deep soaking, gentle rain is essential for a desert floral display. To begin, a rainstorm of a half inch or more is needed to wash the protective coating off wildflower seeds and allow them to sprout. For plants to continue growing, rainstorms must come at evenly-spaced intervals throughout the winter and spring. The best blooms are triggered by an early, winter-type rainstorm in September or October, followed by an El Niño weather pattern that brings above average rainfall to the Desert Southwest.
Warming Things Up
Wildflower seeds that sprout with cool winter storms often remain small and low to the ground until the springtime sun starts to warm the soil. They may not look like they are growing, but below the surface a strong root system is being built. As the temperatures get warmer the well established plants then put on a growth spurt and start to bloom.
Harsh Desert Wind
Frequent springtime windstorms without additional rain can bring about a quick end to the spring bloom or even prevent it from happening by killing off delicate sprouts. Dry, moving air dehydrates exposed surfaces of all living things, including human beings. Desert plants often have waxy, hairy or spiny leaves to baffle the wind and retain precious moisture. Humans carry and drink water as needed, but the wildflowers grow and bloom only until they dry out (or late-spring heat arrives,) leaving seeds scattered on the desert floor to produce the next generation.
Please remember, you are in a National Park. Regulations prohibit picking of wildflowers so that they may produce seed for the next wildflower season.