After heavy rain in California

Lee Poulsen
Wed, 26 Jan 2005 23:11:45 PST
On Jan 26, 2005, at 3:19 PM, Johannes-Ulrich Urban wrote:
> It is a dream since childhood to see the
> desert in bloom so if the time is suitable, I may come and have a 
> look........

Hi Uli,

The desert in bloom is an amazing thing to see. I have had the 
opportunity twice; each time was in the spring of an El Niño year when 
a much higher rainfall than average occurs. (Strangely, this winter 
there is no El Niño occurring.)

The first time was more than ten years ago when a group of my friends 
and I went camping during the week leading up to Easter in Death Valley 
(which is now a National Park). The daytime temperatures were in the 
low 20s °C -- very comfortable -- and the entire valley, which is stark 
hot sandy desert completely surrounded by high mountains in the 
summertime, was covered with flowers and even the bare sandy plain 
areas were carpeted with this tiny 5 mm tall plant with a single pink 
flower at the tip like a shimmering haze of green and pink that tinged 
the sand as far as you could see. (I once camped there one night in the 
summertime, early July, when the daytime temperatures are in the high 
40s °C every day and the nighttime low temperatures only drop down to 
around 35° C! And the campground was nearly full -- of Germans on 
holiday! I was the only American in the campground...)

Then five or six years ago we went to see the wildflowers in Joshua 
Tree National Park after a very rainy winter (in late March or early 
April). When we first got there, we were wondering where all the 
flowers were because we could only see a few from the car when we first 
drove in (from the north side of the park). After a short drive we 
stopped and got out to look around and we could not take a step 
anywhere without stepping on something growing and flowering. Even 
within all the desert shrubs were sprouting and blooming all kinds of 
flowering plants. It was amazing. We saw flowers non-stop during an 
entire day of driving slowly through the park and stopping at various 
places. Since Joshua Tree straddles both a high elevation and a low 
elevation desert, we were able to see many different kinds of flowering 
plants. The one species we missed that I now wish we had taken the time 
to drive to where they were reported to be blooming was the 'desert 
lily' Hesperocallis undulata. 
<…> I have tried 
to grow this from both seed and a mature bulb and it has never worked. 
I think it may not be possible to grow and flower it in cultivation--so 
you have to go to the desert to see it. It often stays dormant for 
years deep under the surface of the sand. I have an uncle who owns a 
property in the desert near the fisherman's town of San Felipe, Baja 
California, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez, about 5 hours drive south of 
here. He and my aunt told me about how one spring after the big El Niño 
event in the mid-'80s they drove down there and got there late at night 
and how the entire air was perfumed and in the full moon for as far as 
they could see as they drove Highway 5 through the desert were fields 
and fields of these lilies in full bloom where there was normally only 
sand and rock and scrub. The locals told them this only happened every 
20 years or so.

Maybe you will be lucky this year.
--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 9-10

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