After a wash of winter rains, Southern California is showing its colors.
Purple carpets of desert sand verbena are visible in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and fields of desert sunflowers are spilling across its dunes. "Super-blooms" of the sunny yellow blossoms have drawn throngs of visitors to Death Valley for nature's once-in-a-decade flower show.
"It just hit me, going to Death Valley," said Michael Simpson, a biology professor at San Diego State University. "There were hundreds and hundreds of people stopping and looking at them, and doing selfies in front of them. They were just naturally attracted to it."
Part of the allure of wildflowers is their ephemeral nature. Here today and gone tomorrow, the seasonal blossoms paint hillsides and washes in dazzling but temporary color. Finding the latest blooms becomes a race to the prize for flower watchers.
"There's hundreds of beautiful wildflowers in the county, and I always think of it as a treasure hunt," said Jim Varnell, president of the San Diego Natural History Museum's Canyoneers, an organization of volunteer nature guides.
The desert is seeing multihued blooms of yellow sunflowers, white desert lilies and peachy apricot mallow, said Betsy Knaak, executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association.
Shrubs are also blossoming at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, from the flame-tipped ocotillo to the deep violet indigo bush, while beavertail cactuses are sprouting hot pink flowers, Knaak said.
The best places to spot wildflowers in the park are in Borrego Palm Canyon and at the entrance to Coyote Canyon at DiGiorgio Road, said Terry Gerson, a senior park and recreation specialist at the Colorado Desert District of California State Parks. The Natural History Association offers free wildflower maps at its office and blog updates on its website.
The Ramona Grasslands, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Mission Trails Regional Park are all good places for wildflower watching, experts said.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Phone: (760) 767-4684
Cheerful yellow clusters of encelia, or brittlebush, which is a member of the daisy family, along with scarlet Indian paintbrush, are sprouting around North County.
The vivid colors that distinguish wildflowers evolved to attract pollinators. But the same reds, yellows, pinks and purples that draw bees and butterflies also pique the interest of people, who have helped spread blossoms around the world.
"These flowers, these plants have been using people to disperse them over great, great distances that they would not be able to do in the wild," Simpson said. "People have that natural, primal joy of being out in an open area, or in a canyon, and seeing the wildflowers."