When Can I See the Desert in Bloom?

Sundrops at White Sands

NPS Photo


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.

mountain pepperweed
Mountain Pepperweed

NPS Photo

Annual Wildflowers

Most wildflowers begin blooming around the middle of April. The most common early bloomers in the dunefield include sand verbena, Hartweg's sundrops, desert mentzelia, and White Sands mustard. In mid-May, these are joined by gypsum centaury, white evening primrose, and greenthread. Some plants 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 and is the first plant to bloom in the spring, usually around the first of March, earlier in warmer years. It blooms throughout the summer and into the fall. Pepperweed has been seen in bloom in the monument every month of the year.

catchfly prairie gentian
Catchfly Prairie Gentian

NPS Photo

Spring Wildflowers
Spring is when all of the small wildflowers begin to bloom and the grasses and bushes begin to turn green. Soaptree yucca is the star of the spring flowers. It grows tall and can easily be spotted throughout the dunes. Its flowers are white and have the appearance of upside down tulips.

Another big contender in the spring is the prairie gentian. This wildflower is easiest to spot at the beginning of the Dune Life Nature Trail. There is also a white version of the plant that will bloom next to the purple one.

NPS Photo

Summer Wildflowers
Many wildflowers are seen in the summer but few are robust enough to bloom during high temperatures. These plants have smaller flowers like the gypsum centaury and desert mentzelia. They can be found growing in the interdunal areas throughout the entire dunefield.
Rio Grande Cottonwoods

NPS Photo

Fall Color
Even though most of the plants at White Sands bloom in the spring and summer, there is still color to be seen in the fall. The fall colors can begin to appear as early as October and last through November. This is the time when the Rio Grande cottonwood trees begin to turn a beautiful orange and the skunkbush sumacs start to turn a vibrant red. These plants can be found throughout the first five miles of Dunes Drive.

Last updated: August 21, 2015

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