Desert plants tend to look very different from plants native to other regions. They are often swollen, spiny, and have tiny leaves that are rarely bright green. A desert always has a limitation of water but the temperature may be hot or cold, high altitude and cloudy like parts of Costa Rica or low altitude and windy like the Cape Preserve in South Africa. The strange appearance of these plants is a result of their remarkable adaptations to the challenges of the desert climate. Desert plants have developed three main adaptive strategies with diverse implementations often in different species with convergent evolution to the same form: succulence, drought tolerance and drought avoidance in annual plants. Each of these is a different but effective suite of adaptations for prospering under conditions that would kill plants from other regions. These differences often extend to the cellular level with the development of special structures to store water in leaves and stems, the periodic shedding of leaves, and special adaptations to even the basic photosynthesis process. Chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants) is the only known substance in the universe that can capture volatile light energy and convert it into a stable form usable for biological processes (chemical energy) through the Calvin Cycle and the enzyme RuBisCO. Green plants use blue and red light energy to combine low-energy molecules (carbon dioxide and water) into high-energy molecules (carbohydrates or starch), which they accumulate and store as energy reserves. There are at least three variations of photosynthesis, all of which use the same basic mechanism, C3 carbon fixation used by most plants, C4 carbon fixation used in about 3% of plants and the CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) carbon fixation pathway that evolved in plants like cactus as an adaptation to arid conditions.
A series of storms have dumped feet of snow and rain in some parts of Northern California. And Southern California had its wettest December in several years. Southern California’s deserts and hillsides are ablaze with color after a wet winter spurred what scientists say is the biggest wildflower bloom in years. Golden California poppies, the state’s flower, blanket hillsides along busy high-desert roads and freeways around Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, the desert blooms with purple Canterbury Bells, red Monkey Flower, white Desert Lily and more poppies. Since we visit California every few weeks to visit my grandson, we have had the privilege to see the “greening” of Southern California in person albeit in Santa Clarita.
In the spring, the desert around Las Vegas can erupt with a riot of colors and forms during the wildflower bloom. Every spring brings at least a few flowers, but in a good year, the desert can be carpeted with flowers. Good and bad years depend on rain, and the best flowers occur during years when there was several inches of rain during the preceding fall. It is always worth getting outdoors during March and April to take a look, but in years when there was good rain during October and November, don't miss it. When visiting the desert it is not often the quantity of blooms, but more often the quality. You might have to look a little closer, walk a little more and look among the rocks to find the treasures but I can promise you it will be worth the effort. This year I decided to focus on the Valley of Fire; these are a few of my finds. I hope you enjoy.