Belying its name of Death Valley, the basin that rests below sea level and is normally rendered desert-like due to drought and record summer heat is bursting into life.
Death Valley National Park is exploding in what could turn out to be a rare “super bloom” of wildflowers, thanks to a series of unusual storms last October, according to a media release from the National Park Service (NPS). Like the previous two massive super blooms, this one is occurring during an El Niño year.
“El Niño can affect Death Valley by shifting the track of winter and spring storms into the area, increasing rainfall during flower season,” the NPS said. It is the biggest one in a decade, exceeding a previous one in 2005.
"I'm not really sure where the term ‘super bloom’ originated, but when I first came to work here in the early 1990s I kept hearing the old timers talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing–the ultimate possibility of what a desert wildflower bloom could be,” said Park Ranger Alan Van Valkenburg, who has lived in Death Valley for 25 years, in the NPS release. “I saw several impressive displays of wildflowers over the years and always wondered how anything could beat them, until I saw my first super bloom in 1998. Then I understood. I never imagined that so much life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty."
Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) wildflowers in the current "super bloom" under way in Death Valley. (Photo: D. Milliard/Death Valley National Park via Facebook
It started in the southern part of the park at elevations below 1,000 feet, the NPS said, and it’s moving northward and possibly upward in elevation as spring progresses. The lower-elevation blooms should continue through mid-March.
Not only is it a super bloom, says the park’s blog, with spring flowers blooming early, but the blooms themselves are supersized.
“What is most exciting to me this spring is not necessarily the number of flowers we have blooming early, or the vast number of tiny plants filling in behind them,” reads one of the many wildflower updates posted by anonymous park rangers on the NPS site. “It is the way some of the plants, that have not yet bloomed or are just beginning to bloom, are super sized.”
Some examples: “Basal rosettes of Gravel Ghost (Atrichoserus platyphylla) that are more than a foot in diameter. Notchleaf Phacelia standing nearly three feet high. Desert Five-Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia) plants with three dozen buds on just one plant. It's mind-boggling. Visions of great things to come! Happy flower hunting!”
For a preview, see the primer released by Death Valley National Park below.