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).


Desert Gold

Geraea canescens

Also known as desert sunflower, this is the plant you see carpeting Death Valley* in years when the conditions are right (eg wet winters). It’s an annual that can stand up to three feet tall (the three plants pictured above are unusually small specimens), and has hairy stems, and hairy, sage-green leaves that are sessile, oval at the base, and long-tipped.


Desert gold is native to the desert Southwest (California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona).

*see yesterday’s post

Bad News, Good News

The first week of March there were news reports about a “superbloom” of wildflowers in Death Valley. Since I had an airline credit to use, it was an easy decision to fly out and spend a few days there, just me and the camera.

I arrived late on Monday, March 7 to find the show not as spectacular as the news articles suggested. On March 9, an update was posted at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. The bad news: hot weather and a windstorm had damaged the flowers before my arrival. The good news: there were still plenty of flowers to see. And since I had never visited that part of the country, it was all new to me.

I believe I found about 30 different species of plants flowering, but I’m only just starting to go through the photos to identify them.  It’s a good way to pass time while sitting in an airport lounge awaiting the flight home.

Here’s a teaser: flowers in the badlands area of the Black Mountains near Artist’s Palette.  This view is looking southwest toward the Panamint range, with snow-covered Telescope Peak in the distance.  The yellow blossoms are desert sunflowers, aka desert gold (Geraea canescens, Asteraceae).  Also visible are the white-flowering gravel ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla, Asteraceae) and purple caltha-leaved phacelia (Phacelia calthifolia, Hydrophyllaceae).