March Madness strikes the Sonoran Desert too and lasts about as long as the basketball tournament. Every year about this time, a riot of colors tinges the arid valleys and mountain slopes with yellow. ’tis the flowering season.
A mountain park I frequent here in Phoenix almost blinds with its brilliant yellows from Palo Verde trees, the Creosote, Brittlebush and cactus like the Compass Barrel and Buckhorn Cholla. But my favorite is the magenta flower of the Engelmann Hedgehog cactus.
For most of the year, this Hedgehog languishes in unspectacular clumps. It spreads out in small, rounded lumps with sharp and hairy spines. It is also known as Saints Cactus or Strawberry Cactus (red flowers). I often see dead ones that are as black as black can be.
This Hedgehog is named for botantist George Engelmann, an emigrant to the U.S. from his native Germany. He explored Arizona in the 19th Century and catalogued many of the cactus here.
The Engelmann was the first cactus to bloom this year in North Mountain Park, followed in short order by the Buckhorn and the Compass Barrel. The barrel cactus is so named “compass” because it tends to list to the southwest.
I was particularly struck by the vibrance of several Black-Eyed Susan bushes atop the north dam in North Mountain Park. I did not see them growing anywhere else.
Bust is now I would describe the wildflower season. I have seen no fields of golden Poppies. Just a few, scattered and lonely. Unfortunately, many measure the quality of the wildflower season strictly by the numbers of poppies. Many other wildflowers like Fiddleneck (yellow flowers), Blue Dick and Phacelia (purple) are more abundant.
Later in the spring and summer the Saguaros will sport their white flowers. And the Ironwood tree will be decked out in gorgeous pink blossoms. But nothing compares to March.
If you miss March in the Sonoran Desert, you miss most of the flower season.