How Plants Grow in the Desert

I am no expert in wildflowers, especially not in desert wildflowers, but some things are obvious. Like, even desert plants need water. Take a look at this picture:


If you can, click to zoom in. How many plants do you see? How many different species? Notice how they’re all growing together in the lee of a small group of rocks.

I did a lot of poking about during my two and a half days in Death Valley, and it took no time at all to figure out that if you want to see wildflowers (beyond the fields of desert gold), you need to go where there’s moisture in the ground. On the shady side of a wash, up a narrow canyon, into gullies and gulches.

I have nothing special to say about this except that I love the tenacity of desert plants.

…oh, the answers: six plants, five different species. In the lower left
Chylismia claviformis ssp. claviformis (brown-eyed evening-primrose), Cryptantha muricata (pointed cryptantha), Phacelia calthifolia (caltha-leaved phacelia), and Aliciella latifolia ssp. latifolia (broad-leaved gilia). In the upper right, Cryptantha muricata and Geraea canescens (desert gold).


The Other Yellow Flower

On my second day in Death Valley, as I drove further north to slightly higher elevations, I noticed that the fields of gold had become fields of yellow.  The flowers looked different, too (as much as I could tell at 50 mph).  So of course I had to pull over and take a closer look.

The vast expanses of desert gold had become less-dense expanses of yellowcups, aka golden evening-primrose, Chylismia brevipes (formerly Camissonia brevipes; Onagraceae). They can stand nearly as tall as desert gold, but are generally shorter and more wispy in appearance. If you look closely you’ll see a tiny red dot at the base of each petal, an identifying characteristic of this species.

Yellowcups are native to the deserts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.