Imperial Valley Press
The desert in bloom
Spring is in the air and some of our desert wild flowers have started to bloom! The Imperial Valley encompasses two deserts: The Colorado Desert being a subdivision of the greater Sonoran Desert. What defines a desert? A desert is an area of land that receives less than ten inches of rain per year, here in our desert we receive 2.92 inches of rain. Now while a super bloom is a rare phenomenon in our desert it’s still possible. A super bloom occurs when local deserts receive a lot of rain during the fall and winter months causing a higher-than-average bloom. Even though this rare occurrence only happens every few years, we can still anticipate a desert bloom.
PLANT ADAPTATIONS & CULTURAL USES
Our desert landscape has already started to transform and come alive with color. The adaptation of plants to the desert environment is essential to understanding how life continues to thrive and survive, even in an area with little to no water. Let’s learn about some of the key adaptations and cultural uses of local desert plants by looking at: the Ocotillo, Brittlebush, Creosote bush, and Desert Lily.
The Ocotillo is known for its long spiny stems that can reach heights of up to twenty feet! After even the lightest rainfall Ocotillos transform the desert landscape quickly with overwhelming green stems and clusters of red-orange tubular flowers. Ocotillo is a drought conscious shrub that remains dormant when leafless to conserve water. The Ocotillo is pollinated by hummingbirds that like the honey nectar its flowers produce. The Kumeyaay used the Ocotillo plant to build frames for houses and fencing.
The Brittlebush is a member of the sunflower family. It is a medium-sized bush with long, silver, gray-like velvety leaves. In the late winter and early spring small yellow flowers form on long stalks above the leafy stems. The brittlebushes’ color reflects the sunlight helping to keep the plant cool, they also trap any moisture to help reduce the amount of water lost. The Kumeyaay used this plant to treat toothaches and chest pains.
The Creosote bush is known for creating the signature scent after a desert rain. During dry periods, creosote leaves fold in half to cut their exposure to the sun. Creosote flowers are yellow and have five petals. Teas made from the leaves and stems was used to fight respiratory infections and tuberculosis. Dry powder made from its leaves was an antibacterial agent on cuts, abrasions, and burns.
The Desert Lily grows on dry, sandy flats and washes and spends three or more years growing leaves without flowers. They have adapted to a desert environment, by staying below ground in dry years and shooting up from a bulb only when conditions are favorable. The desert lily’s bulbs were used as a food source by indigenous groups.
FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: OCOTILLO BLOOMS!
Join us at Imperial Valley Desert Museum for Ocotillo Blooms this Saturday, March 4, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. as we celebrate the desert bloom. We will be featuring music, games, guided hikes, talks, kid-friendly activities, and a LIVE butterfly release! This is a great chance to get out and experience one of the most colorful and beautiful parts of our local desert. Ocotillo Blooms is a free community event with no reservations required.
The Imperial Valley Desert Museum is located in Ocotillo, California. It is open Wednesdays through Sundays 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.