Here’s something that’s uncommon even for balmy Tucson: wildflowers in bloom smack in the middle of winter.
A few clumps of brilliant yellow desert marigolds and lots of pink-hued fairy dusters are blooming this week along Gates Pass Road west of Tucson and elsewhere.
Botanists say the bizarrely early bloom is largely the result of two factors: November rains that triggered germination of wildflowers and daily high temperatures in January that have hovered around 70 degrees and higher.
“The early soaking rain followed by warm weather started many perennials into growth, and there has been massive germination of annuals,” said Mark Dimmitt, a wildflower expert and retired director of natural history at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Desert plants bursting into bloom in January — well ahead of typical flowering seasons in late February and March — could be part of the floral future.
“There seems to be a general trend in earlier flowering of most desert plants in the last 50 years,” Dimmitt said. “It’s two weeks earlier in some species.”
TAKE IT AS A TREAT
“What a treat to get color so early,” said George Montgomery, an expert on Sonoran Desert plants and avid wildflower watcher. “The desert marigold and fairy duster are perennials and a component of the spring wildflower season.”
Other sites in Southeastern Arizona also could be boasting blooms earlier than usual.
“I did the Winkelman Christmas Bird Count” near the small community north of Tucson, Montgomery said. “In the hills southeast of town there were lots of desert anemone and blue dicks growing. It might be good up there in a few weeks.”
SPRING BLOOM IN DOUBT
The prolonged warm spell that prompted some flowers to bloom this month — along with the possibility that our current rainless weather might continue — could be bad news for the normal spring bloom.
“Unless it cools off and we get another rain soon, the annuals will flower at a small size and not make much of a display,” Dimmitt said.