April 6, 2017

April 07, 2017 Posted by: Neil Frakes
Currently the best spots to view wildflowers are still found in the central and southern portions of the park. There is also a decent bloom found along Utah Trail just south of the Twentynine Palms entrance. The higher elevations do have wildflowers, but just not large expanses of color. If you primary purpose is to view wildflowers, you may try going to locations other than Joshua Tree. While we are having a decent bloom, other areas, such as Carrizo Plain National Monument, are reporting better displays.  Please avoid trampling vegetation so that these native annual species can successfully reproduce, and so that other visitors can enjoy witnessing the bloom too!
Please take a look at past blog posts, as the information in the past reports is still relevant and will help with species identification. And be sure to visit and contribute to our iNaturalist Wildflower Watch Project.

Color photo of a hillside covered in pops of yellow flowers. NPS / Neil Frakes
Many of the mountain slopes, including those in the Hexie Mountains, are painted yellow with the flowers of Encelia. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Wilson Canyon and Pinto Basin

The massive valley in the center of the park, known as Pinto Basin, is still a good place to view wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for desert lilies (Hesperocallis undulata), especially around Turkey Flats. Desert gold (Geraea canescens) is common but nearing the end of its bloom. Creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) are covered in yellow flowers.  Desert five spots (Eremalche rotundifolia) have about a week left for their bloom.  The sprawling multi-flowered sand verbena (Abronia villosa) is also common.
Color photo of a small, pink flower, with five darker pink spots near the center. Photo: Sam King
Desert five-spot. Photo: Sam King

Color photo of clusters of small lilac flowers. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Sand verbena. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Cottonwood Springs and Cottonwood Canyon, and the South Boundary Bajada

The lowest elevations of the park are found within the Colorado Desert. The southern entrance to the park, just north of I-10, is still a good spot for viewing wildflowers. The red flowers on the tips of the branches of Ocotillo (Fouqueria splendens) make them appear as if they were dipped in paint. Other common species blooming include desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), chia (Salvia columbariae), and poppies (Eschscholzia spp.). The bloom at the south boundary should be good for the next couple of weeks.

Color photo of a blooming ocotillo. Photo: Horace Birgh
Flowering Ocotillos. Photo: Horace Birgh

Color photo close up of a red, podded, ocotillo flower. Photo: Sam King
Close up of an Ocotillo flower. Photo: Sam King

Heading to the north of the South Bajada, you will enter Cottonwood Canyon. Here, the rocky hillslopes are quite stunning; dotted with densely covered yellow flowered brittlebush (Encelia farinosa). The bright red bursts of chuparosa (Justicia californica) stand out as you drive by.  As you exit the canyon and approach the Cottonwood Visitor Center, be on the look out for the yellow flowered prince’s plume (Stanleya pinnata).

Color photo of bright red flowers of chuparosa. Photo: Horace Birgh
Bright red flowers of chuparosa in Cottonwood Canyon. Photo: Horace Birgh

Color photo of yellow flowers on a long stalk of prince's plume. Photo: Horace Birgh
Yellow flowers of the elegant prince's plume. Photo: Horace Birgh

North/Twentynine Palms Entrance

The area just inside the park from the entrance gate outside of Twentynine Palms is becoming a great spot to view wildflowers. The mountain slopes are covered in yellow flowers. The is a good bloom of desert dandelion (Malocothrix glabrata) along the roadside. The creosote bushes are covered in yellow flowers, as are the spiny senna (Senna armata). Mojave yuccas are abundantly flowering in the area. There is a good diversity in the bloom here, and you will see a lot of color, mostly yellow but also magenta, white, and purple.

Color photo of bright yellow flowers on a spiny senna bush. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Yellow flowers of spiny senna (Senna armata), a member of the legume family. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes.

Purple flowers on a bush. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Indigobush adds some variety to the bloom near the North Entrance. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Wonderland of Rocks

Along Park Boulevard, through the higher elevations of the park where Joshua trees grow, we are not seeing an abundance of wildflowers yet. However, for those that are willing to get out of the car and look, you are likely to find some gems. Keep your eyes peeled for our only red flowering cactus, the Mojave mound cactus (Echinocereus mojavensis). Try to spot the 8 to 10 foot tall flowering stalk of Parry’s Nolina (Nolina parryi).

Color photo of orange flowers on a very spiny cactus. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Mojave mound cactus is the only cactus with red flowers in Joshua Tree. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Tall, wide stalk with branches covered in cream flowers. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Parry's Nolina is starting to flower among the boulders in the Wonderland of Rocks. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

You may find the beautiful violet colored flowers of Canterbury bells (Phacelia campanularia). These grow on the slopes of washes and in rocky areas. If you are willing to get down close to the ground, you may get a good view of a variety of “belly flowers” such as Bigelow’s monkey flower (Mimulus bigelovii).

Pink flowers with yellow-orange centers. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Bigelow's monkeyflower is generally less than 6 inches tall. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Violet-blue flowers interspersed with green. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Canterbury bells can form dense patches of violet-blue flowers. Photo: NPS/ Neil Frakes

Non-native Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are those that are not native to our region and tend to grow quickly and aggressively, out-competing other plants. They are generally brought here by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Invasive plants are a major challenge for resource managers at Joshua Tree National Park.  We have several species of invasive grasses and mustards that are likely outcompeting our native wildflower species and may be preventing nice wildflower displays in some areas.

Rust-colored, low-lying grasses on a desert landscape. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Dense cover of Mediterranean split grass (Schismus spp.) near Clark's Pass. Invasive grasses such as this one may prevent native annual wildflowers from growing. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

Scraggly, tall mustard in a sand dune area. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes
Saharan mustard (Brassica tournefortii) is a fast growing aggressive invader that can choke out native plants, including some rare species of plants only found growing on sand dunes. Photo: NPS / Neil Frakes

What can you do?

To prevent the spread of invasive plants, please consider taking the following actions before coming to Joshua Tree:
  1. Wash your car so that it is free of mud and other debris. Invasive plant seeds can travel long distances on vehicles.
  2. Make sure your gear and clothing is clean. Similar to your vehicle, you may transport invasive plant seeds on your clothing or on your camping gear. Shake out your tent BEFORE you leave on your trip.
  3. Clean out the seeds and debris that get stuck in your shoelaces. Invasive grass seeds often get stuck underneath your shoelaces when you walk through a patch of them. Clean out this part of your shoe in a safe place and put the seeds in your garbage rather than dumping them out on the ground!
  4. Spread the word! Tell other people to take these actions as well.

wildflower, wildflowers

Last updated: April 7, 2017

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