Here's another wonder of our recent quirky weather: winter wildflowers.
"Things are in bloom out there right now - a month ahead of normal," said Russ Buhrow, curator of plants at Tohono Chul Park.
"Normally the peak of the wildflower bloom is about March 25, but it could peak in late February this year unless we get a big freeze," Buhrow said.
The apparent reason for the early flourish of flowers: soaking rains in December followed by the fourth-warmest January on record.
"Those deep-soaking rains in December penetrated to depth," Buhrow said. "Since then, it's been unusually mild - and if it gets mild, wildflowers don't need much to get going."
Species blooming now at Saguaro National Park East and other sites around Tucson include brittlebush, globemallow, fairy duster and others. Blooming is limited in most areas at this point. Many plants are producing flowers, but it's too early in the season for mass blooms or expansive displays in the wild.
At Tohono Chul Park - 7366 N. Paseo del Norte - species already in bloom include penstemons, poppies, bluebells and others, Buhrow said.
He said the outlook for blooms in March and April depends on moisture.
"It would sure be nice to get another inch or two of rain before the end of February," Buhrow said. "If more rain comes, it could be an unbelievable bloom in March."
Did you know?
The average temperature last month in Tucson was a balmy 55.6 degrees. That was 3 degrees above the normal average and made for the fourth-warmest January on record.
Source: National Weather Service
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at email@example.com or at 573-4192.
Nothing to sneeze at
Good news for allergy sufferers: Wildflowers for the most part are not allergenic.
"They are colored to attract insects. ... The flowers are for hummingbirds, bees and insects to land on them and carry the pollen to another plant," local pollen expert Mark Sneller said on Friday. "The wind can't really get at it, and if it does, the pollen doesn't travel very far."
If people are suffering from particularly bad allergies right now, Sneller advises opening the windows and doing some housecleaning, as indoor allergens could be the culprit.
"Everything has been closed up for a while. Open up the home to some outdoor air," said Sneller, a research scientist who owns Aero-Allergen Research. "I wouldn't worry about the wildflowers."
People with outdoor allergies do need to worry about tree pollens like cottonwood, ash and juniper.
Also, the absence of a big freeze in Tucson this winter means ragweed never really went away, said Dr. George Makol, a co-owner of Alvernon Allergy and Asthma in Tucson.
"I see the pollen count is climbing. But mulberry, mesquite and palo verde are not out yet," he said. "We are starting to get calls here, but there's no spring mania where they threaten my secretary. That will probably happen in mid-March to April. That's when people get frantic."
Makol's practice maintains a website where people can enter their ZIP code and see a detailed analysis of the pollen count: alvernonallergy.com