Wildflower Viewing

A sign that says "Joshua Tree National Park" with yellow flowers in
Brittlebush in full bloom in the southern entrance area, after heavy winter rains in 2017.

NPS Brad Sutton

A person kneeling on a trail and taking pictures of wildflowers
A visitor responsibly taking photos from the trail.

NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

Tips for Wildflower Viewing

Look low: Many wildflowers in the desert are extremely low growing, which conserves valuable energy and minimizes exposure to harsh conditions like strong wind and harsh sun.

Move slow: Watch your step and avoid stepping on vegetation and flowers. If you aren’t careful, you may accidentally crush or trample wildflowers or plant vegetation before they have bloomed.

Stay on the trail, let the wildflowers prevail: Off trail travel, whether on foot or in a vehicle, can cause soils to compress, limiting the availability of air, water, and nutrients to the roots and can lead to the decline and death of vegetation. Staying on trail minimizes your impact on fragile plants making their home in desert.

Don’t take flowers, take pictures instead: For each flower removed, the potential for future flowers decreases. Take a photo of them instead of picking the flowers, so they can live on to be pollinated and disperse seeds. Picking vegetation in the park is prohibited.


What’s the Forecast for Wildflowers this Year?

Deserts are resilient environments where the contrast between rugged landscapes, harsh conditions, and delicate beauty captivates us. Wildflower viewing is one of the ways we can observe this dynamic, if the conditions are right. Wildflower blooms vary from year to year. To best predict whether plants will bloom in abundance in the spring, there are a few important factors to consider:

  • Rainfall, mostly from October through February
  • Sunshine, following the rains
  • Winds that may be destructive
Rain cloud drops rain on a desert valley with mountains in the distance
Rain falls on the Pinto Basin.

NPS/Brad Sutton

RainThe Key Ingredient

Gentle rain that soaks deeply into the soil is essential for a desert floral display. Wildflower seeds need a half inch or more of rain during a single event to wash their protective coating off and allow them to sprout. For plants to continue growing, rainstorms must come at evenly-spaced intervals throughout the winter and spring. Early rainstorms in September or October trigger large blooms. Annual wildflower seeds will continue to thrive if an El Niño weather pattern brings above-average rainfall to the desert southwest in the late fall and winter.

The park resides in the rain shadow of two of the tallest mountains in Southern California, San Gorgonio (11,503 ft or 3506 m in elevation) and San Jacinto (10,834 ft or 3302 m in elevation). This makes it more difficult for typical winter rain events, such as atmospheric rivers, to reach us. The park is a desert after all, which means it receives vastly less rain than other environments. Precipitation gauges collect rainfall data throughout the park. In the Lost Horse Valley, the average amount of rain for fall and winter is 3.61 inches. In the spring of 2019, widespread blooms occurred after the area saw 8.25 inches of fall and winter precipitation (229% of the average).

The sun sets over dark mountains

NPS Brad Sutton

Things are Heating Up

Sprouting wildflowers often remain small and low to the ground until the sun starts to warm the soil. They may not look like they are growing, but a strong root system is often developing below the surface. As temperatures get warmer, well-established plants will exert more energy into growing and displaying flowers.

This time in a plant’s life is vital to their future. They depend on their flowers and pollinators to reproduce. A variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife visit flowers to eat nectar. While doing so, these pollinators distribute pollen to other blooms. Inadvertently, they participate in the reproduction cycle of flowering plants. The seeds from a spring bloom can remain viable for many years in the soil but require healthy growing conditions to sprout.


Harsh Desert Wind

Frequent springtime windstorms, without additional rain, can end or prevent a spring bloom. Dry, moving air dehydrates the exposed surfaces of all living things. Desert plants often have waxy, hairy, or spiny leaves to block the wind and hold onto precious moisture. Humans can carry and drink water as needed, but the wildflowers must retain their water. They must grow and bloom before they dry out, to leave seeds scattered on the desert floor. High wind is a common occurrence in Joshua Tree National Park.


When do Desert Wildflowers Typically Bloom?

Before visiting, please review these safety recommendations and current conditions to arrive prepared for your adventure.

January to Mid-April

Where: Lower elevations on alluvial fans and foothills. These areas include the Park’s Southern Entrance, Cottonwood, and the Pinto Basin areas.

Wildflowers (shown below left to right): Arizona Lupine, Desert Gold (Geraea canescens), Desert Canterbury Bells (Phacelia campanularia), and Poppies (Eschscholzia spp.)

A montage of purple and yellow wildflowers

NPS Photos


Early March to Early May

Where: 3000 to 5000 feet elevations, upper desert slopes, canyons, and higher valleys. These areas include Hidden Valley, Indian Cove, Jumbo Rocks, and Twin Tanks areas.

Wildflowers (shown below left to right): Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), and Pincushions (Chaenactis spp.)

A montage of yellow, orange, red, and white wildflowers

NPS Photos


April through June

Where: 5000 + feet elevation on mountain slopes and pinyon pine/juniper woodlands. These areas include Juniper Flats, Black Rock Canyon, and the Covington Flat areas.

Wildflowers (shown below left to right): Desert Mariposa (Calochortus kennedyi), Blackbush (Coleogyne ramosissima), Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. basilaris), and Desert Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellata)

A montage of orange, yellow, and pink flowers

NPS Photos


Fall Blooms?!

The Mojave and Sonoran Deserts experience periods of heavy rainfall during the summer months from monsoons. These storms often cause flash floods in the desert southwest. With this rainfall comes more potential for plant growth and flowering. Perennial and late blooming plants will take advantage of this moisture. Many of the infamous spring desert wildflowers will not begin blooming again. Some species found in these deserts are exclusively dependent on summer storms. Their blooms from late summer through fall are important components of the park’s flora.

Where: Throughout the park
Wildflowers: Goldenbush, Desert Willow

a photo montage of a butterfly on yellow flowers and a plant with pink flowers
A painted lady butterfly on a goldenbush and the pink flowers of a desert willow.

NPS Photos/Carmen Aurrecoechea


So, Will There be a Superbloom This Year?

Joshua Tree is known as a destination for spectacular spring wildflower displays, but those are the exception, not the rule. Only under perfect conditions does the desert fill with a sea of flowers. This phenomenon tends to happen once every 5 to 10 years when significantly above-average winter rainfall occurs. They are impossible to predict and may become fewer and farther between, especially with a changing climate. Although there are years where the flowers are few, they are never totally absent.

Take it from the experts:
“The reality is people are observing a very real phenomenon, which is that spring desert wildflower blooms are extraordinarily beautiful and that due to extreme drought and anthropogenic climate change they are increasingly infrequent” - Nick Graver (Botany and Vegetation Monitoring Program Lead)

“The really big wildflower blooms are generally happening under much higher precipitation regimes.  For example, in 2019 we had 229% of our average fall/winter precipitation (this equated to 8.25 inches of rain between October-March)...” - Tasha La Doux (Joshua Tree National Park Botanist)


Fleeting Beauty

In Joshua Tree National Park, most 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 does fall, the seeds quickly sprout, grow, bloom, and leave behind their seeds before the dryness and heat returns. Interested in learning more about the plants of the park? Explore the Joshua Tree National Park species list.


Desert Gems

Joshua Tree National Park provides habitat protection for 54 rare plant species, including two federally listed species, three on the Joshua Tree Watchlist, and 49 listed by the California Native Plant Society. Most of these rare plants are threatened beyond our boundaries by mining, off-road vehicle use, industrial-scale solar development, and increasing urbanization throughout San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Some of these fragile species are endemic to the park, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else. Like tiny gemstones, these rarities are easy to overlook as you travel through the desert. But if you are lucky enough to find one, look closely and you will see why they are so precious. Even in years where these plants are abundant in growth, they are still considered rare. Extra care is needed to help protect the rare plants of Joshua Tree National Park.


Hit us with your best shot!

Use iNaturalist, a free community science app for mobile devices to report your flower observations to the Joshua Tree National Park Wildflower Watch project. Your observations logged contribute valuable data to scientists all over the world.

Last updated: March 11, 2023

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