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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Borrego Bonanza, Part II

Wooly Sunflower

By Jim Bishop.

We made a visit to Borrego in February and another in March to check out this year’s super-bloom. Part I, which appeared in the April issue, described our findings along County Road S22 and in Hellhole Canyon.

The day after visiting Hellhole Canyon, we got a relatively early start and headed up Coyote Canyon. It had been closed due to flooding during our February visit. Two-wheeled drive vehicles can go a very long way up the relatively flat and graded lower portion of the canyon. Here again we encountered large fields of verbena, primroses, and daisies. However, we were on the search for a specific flower, the desert five spot (Eremalche rotundifolia).

Desert Five Spot

It is another small plant, usually under 6 inches tall. The leaves look a bit like pelargonium leaves and have red stems. Depending on sun exposure, the leaf color varies from green, to dark magenta, to brown. However, the hot pink global flowers have a distinctive red blotch at the base of each petal that can only be viewed by looking directly into the flower. The flowers are only open when warmed by the sun. It is one of my favorite desert flowers. We searched for over an hour and were ready to give up when we found a few plants growing at the base of a large rock fall. We also saw numerous hawkmoth larvae in this area feeding on the flowers.

To complete our desert tour we headed further east past the Texas Dip, where we saw lots of yellow poppies, blooming barrel cacti and more five-spots, to the off-road vehicle area of Borrego. It was a bit too loud and damaged by vehicles for my taste, but we did hike up the rocks at Devil’s Slide which gave a great view of the yellow haze across the lower desert created by the seeming endless blooms of the desert sunflower (Geraea canescens). It was in this area that the migration of the painted lady butterflies was most notable. At times there were so many they looked like falling leaves blowing across the road.

Our final desert destination was at the far southern end of S2 just before the wind turbines on I-8. There were not many flowers encountered along S-2, but the desert was very green with the promise of more wildflowers later in the season.

Arizona Lupine

At our final stop above Carrizo Canyon, we noticed that the brown-eyed primrose (Chylismia claviformis peirsonii), which were mostly off-white in the main areas of the park, had taken on a lovely soft yellow color. Here we found several blooming California fishhook cacti, teddy bear cholla and a steep slope covered with more Arizona lupines and ghost flowers (Mohavea confertiflora).

I highly recommend the website, which is an excellent site for information about desert wildflowers and an excellent resource for identifying plants.

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