“Super blooms”–seasons in which unusually high numbers of wildflowers blossom in California’s deserts–can only occur if very specific conditions are met. We saw the phenomenon last year and in 2017, but before that, there had not been one since 2008. And, it seems, there is no reason to expect a super bloom in 2020.
To get a prediction about this year’s plants, we spoke with Dr. Exequiel Ezcurra, a professor of ecology with U.C. Riverside’s department of botany and plant sciences. Dr. Ezcurra is an expert in desert and coastal ecology–and has a true passion for plants. While he expects a perfectly fine season when it comes to spring flowers, he sees no indication of a super bloom-level event.
Are you predicting a super bloom in 2020?
No. It is very unlikely. There is nothing that makes me suppose it will be a super bloom.
This was a funny year because, in December, it rained quite a lot. It seemed like it was going to be a very rainy season. But since then, it has pretty much stopped. It rained a tiny little bit a few days ago, but I was just in the desert, and it’s fairly dry.
Last year was a good year for annual plants. This year I have seen no indication it will be as good.
What is different about this year versus last year?
This is not a totally mechanistic, one-to-one, cause-and-effect relationship, but it tends to rain more when the California current gets warm. Last year, it was a bit warm, and a few winter storms came in. Those lead to the super bloom.
And the “super bloom” we had last year, it was still more towards the coast. It wasn’t a really deep, desert bloom. In the desert, it was good, but not amazing. The really big, big super blooms in the desert mostly happen in El Niño years.
When it started raining in December, I looked on my computer at this system we have, it’s called ENSO Monitor–it’s basically a map created by a consortium of universities, with satellite images of the temperature in the Pacific–and when I looked, the Pacific was starting to get warm. And it rained a lot. So I thought, “Aha! This is nice!” But the trend did not continue. Now the ocean is fairly cold, and in January and February we’ve had very little rain, and it doesn’t seem like we’re going to get much more in the next month.
In order to get a good bloom, you need good rain in December, January, and February, so that it can seep into the soil, and then in March, when the spring is coming and temperatures are increasing, all those plants can flower.
Even if there is not a super bloom, per se, what do you suggest for people who want to see some spring flowers?
Where you need to look is places populated by herbaceous vegetation that are on this side of the Sierras, facing towards the Pacific. In the spring, I always take my students near El Cajon Pass, off the 15. There’s an area there where it always rains, it never fails me. When I take my students, some years it’s spectacular, other years the flowers are not that spectacular, but there are always annual plants to see.
Also the valleys north of L.A. and north of Santa Barbara, Los Padres National Forest, and Carrizo Plain National Monument. Those areas are always great to visit in springtime to see the plants, even in just a normal year.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.