The high temperatures, limited rain, and drying winds of the desert can present a harsh environment for wildflowers. These unforgiving conditions make the abundance of Zion’s wildflowers seem even more spectacular, set against a backdrop of towering sandstone cliffs.
In the early spring, many plants take advantage of the seasonal rains, to flower and reproduce quickly, before the precious water is gone. Flowers like the desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), or the eye-catching slickrock paintbrush (Castilleja scabrida), often take visitors by surprise with their brilliant colors in early-to-mid April.
Zion’s many springs and seeps also provide micro-habitats where temperatures are cooler and water is available year round. Throughout the summer, on the Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, and Riverside Walk trails, you may see “hanging gardens” where flowers like shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum), golden columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), and scarlet lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis) cling tenaciously to the cliff walls.
Large, delicate flowers like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) and Bridge’s evening primrose (Oenothera longissima), which wilt in the heat of the day, bloom at night in cooler temperatures. Others, like the datil yucca (Yucca baccata), have flower petals with a waxy coating. A waxy coating, or cuticle, allows the petal to retain water and withstand the drying heat. Still other desert survivors, like elkweed (Swertia radiata), bloom in the high elevation of Zion’s plateaus where the temperatures are cooler and rains are more frequent.
Wherever you find them, the wildflowers of Zion National Park give you the feeling you’ve stumbled upon a secret treasure, an extra splash of color in the dry, red rock desert.
Last updated: February 24, 2015