Wildflowers

Wildflowers and Saguaro

NPS Photo/ J. Smith

Tonto National Monument is a wonderful place for viewing the showy spring wildflowers. In a good year, the hillsides are covered with gold poppies. Blooms of purple lupine, red firecracker penstemon, and white desert chicory along with many other species are scattered among and above the gold.

Though some flowers were of use, the Salado people looked forward to harvesting the fruit and plant parts. The desert was their grocery store, and each plant a shelf of foods, medicines, and other items supplementing their cultivated crops. They also had to compete with the many animal species relying on the same plants for their food. A bountiful flowering season meant a bountiful harvest for both animals and humans.

Spring is not the only time for wildflowers in the desert, just the most abundant. Many cacti bloom at their appointed time during the year. The bright pink blooms of the hedgehog arrive in March and April, while Arizona's state flower, the white saguaro blossom, opens in May and June. The agave family of plants, including yuccas, bloom from late spring through the summer months. These and other perennial plants continue to live from year to year with their blooms not as dependent on the timing of the rain.

Plants completing their life cycle in one growing season are called annuals. No matter their blooming season, these plants are dependent on the right conditions to germinate. This is especially true of the spectacular spring flowers. Some seeds may lie dormant a decade or more, waiting on the weather. Without the right amount of rain in the autumn, the growing process for spring blooming does not even begin.

Best wildflower years have unusually wet and early winter rains. The rains also have to be carefully spaced apart. Along with the rains, the right temperature is important. Cold winters may slow the growth of the seedlings. Warm windy weather may dry out the seedlings, causing them to bloom prematurely. Other factors affecting growth may include too much vegetation from a wet summer, and different soil types. Don't forget the effect of animals browsing tender shoots or crushing plants in their wanderings. At the end of their cycle, hundreds of seeds are spread across the hills and valleys by wind, water, and animals, only to play the waiting game again. Next time wildflowers dress the landscape, know that conditions happened just right to grace us with this amazing display.

Learn about some common wildflower species below.

 
Blackfoot Daisy
Blackfoot Daisy

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Blackfoot Daisy

Melampodium leucanthum

This perennial plant can grow up to 20" in height. It has ash gray, narrow leaves and white ray flowers with yellow disks. It blooms March through December.
 
Desert Chicory Flower
Desert Chicory Flower

NPS Photo

Desert Chicory

Rafinesequia neomexicana

This annual plant can grow up to 20" in height. It has dark green, narrowly lobed leaves with white ray flowers. It blooms mid-February through May.
 
Desert Globemallow
Desert Globemallow

NPS Photo

Desert Globemallow (Sore-Eye Poppy)

Sphaeralcea ambigua

This perennial plant grows in large clumps up to 40" high. They have grayish, maple-like leaves with scalloped edges and bright orange flowers. They bloom year-round.

Uses:
- Used medicinally for upset stomach, as an antirheumatic, as a cathartic, for colds, as birth control, for venereal diseases, as a poultice for swellings and sores, and as an eyewash.
 
Desert Hyacinth Flower
Desert Hyacinth Flower

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Desert Hyacinth (Blue Dicks)

Dichelostemma capitatum

This perennial lily can grow up to 30" in height. It has a few dark green, grasslike leaves and lavender flowers in a terminal cluster on a slender stem. It flowers February through March.
 
Desert Lupine
Desert Lupine

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Desert Lupine

Lupinus sparsiflorus

This perennial plant can grow up to 16" in height and is a favorite of bees. It has dark green, palmately divided leaves with pale blue to violet pealike flowers. The petals are short, wide, and curve upward. The flowers are followed by a flattened pod. Lupines can adjust their leaflets during the day to absorb maximum sunlight. It blooms January through May.
 
Desert Marigold
Desert Marigold

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Desert Marigold

Baileya multiradiata

This annual plant grows up to 2' in height. It has grayish, woolly, lobed leaves and yellow daisylike flowers on long, nearly leafless stems. It blooms March through October.
 
Firecracker Penstemon
Firecracker Penstemon

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Firecracker Penstemon

Penstemon eatonii

These plants can grow up to 2' in height. They have dark green, leathery, mainly basal leaves and bright scarlet red, tubular flowers. It blooms February through June.
 

Gila county Liveforever (Rock Echeveria)

Dudleya saxosa

This succulent can grow to 1 1/2' in height. It has grayish green leaves and a red stem. The flowers have a 5 yellow petals and an reddish orange sepal. It blooms April through June.
 

Gooding's Verbena

Glandularia gooddingii

This pernnial plant can grow to up to 2' in heigth. It has bright green, hairy leaves and lavendar to pink flowers. The flowers had 5 joined, notched petals and form showy headlike clusters. It blooms April through June.
 
Mariposa Lily Flower
Mariposa Lily Flower

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Mariposa Lily (Sego Lily)

Calochortus nuttallii

This plant can grow up to 20" in height. It has grayish green, narrow, grasslike leaves with white to lavender tuliplike flowers. It has a yellow petal base marked with a crescent-shaped purple band. It blooms May through June.

Uses:
- The bulbs were dried and perserved for winter use, eaten raw, or roasted, peeled, then eaten.
 
Mexican Poppies
Mexican Poppies

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Mexican Gold Poppy

Eschscholiza mexicana

This annual plant can grow up to 16" in height. It has pale bluish green, fernlike leaves and orange cup-like flowers. The flowers remain open only in full sunlight. Entire slopes can because a seas of gold from the poppies after abundant winter rainfalls. It blooms mid-February through May.

 
Spiderwort Flowers
Prairie Spiderwort Flowers

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Prairie Spiderwort

Tradescentia occidentlis

This perennial plant can grow up to 2' in height. It has long green leaves with terminal blue-violet flowers. The flowers have three petals and six stamens with yellow anthers. Spiderwort flowers close by mid-day and last only one day. It blooms May through October.
 
Spreading Fleabane
Spreading Fleabane Flowers

NPS Photo/ S. Treener

Spreading Fleabane

Erigeron divergens

This annual plant can grow up to 20" in height. It is a hairy plant with basal leaves. It has numerous ray flowers that are lavender, almost white with yellow disks. It blooms March through November.

Uses:
- Parts could be used to make an oil to treat fleas.
 
Wild Cucumber
Wild Cucumber

NPS Photo/ M. Stewart

Wild Cucumber (Gila Manroot)

Marah gilensis

This perennial plant is a long vine that climbs over shrubs and small trees. It has dark green leaves with white star-shaped flowers. The flowers are followed by round, green, fleshy fruit with spines. It blooms March through April.
 
Published: May 10, 2017

Last updated: May 10, 2017

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