Wild About Wildflowers

And Harlan…


Harlan is our resident desert guru who has taken a hiatus from leading nature walks due to a flair up in his back. As he undergoes physical therapy, he is slowly getting back to his game. On this Thursday morning he asks me if I want to walk with him to Pushawalla to check out the wildflowers. You bet I do! I never turn down a chance to spend time learning and exploring with Harlan. Judith is the docent today in the Palm House and she is also excited to tag along. So Jeff takes care of the Visitor Center and Harlan, Judith, and I take off to view wildflowers.

Brown-Eyed Primrose



Shaggy Mane Mushroom

Indian Tobacco

Wishbone… again

Not sure… Harlan is stumped about this one… Maybe more Desert Tobacco?


Notch-Leaved Phacelia and Rock Daisies

Cryptobiotic Crust

Also known as “desert glue”, this hidden layer of biotic organisms plays a vital role in desert health. They hold the place in place! Cyanobacteria in the desert form filaments surrounded by sheaths. These filaments become moist and active during rains, moving through the soil and leaving behind a trail of sticky sheath material. The sheaths stick to soil particles and form an intricate web of fibers which stabilize erosion-prone surfaces from wind and water. They not only protect the soil from blowing away but they also absorb precious rainfall and reduce flash flood runoff. They contribute nitrogen and organic matter to the desert. The boot of a hiker or the weight of a tire, however, can destroy these cryptobiotic crusts which take 5 to 7 years to return. (nps.org)

Chicory… again

Whispering Bells

A cool rock Judith and I really like!

Sand Verbena


Quiz Time

Okay, I’ve been taking pictures of desert wildflowers for awhile now and identifying them in my journal posts. How many can you identify?








Answers at end of blog…

January 26th

We wake up to an unpleasant surprise…

Yikes! More palm fronds have fallen from the same palm tree in front of the Visitor Center. Jeff and I live right behind the Palm House and sleep with our windows open, yet we heard no noise from such an incredible explosion!

I take pictures and send them to the Preserve Manager, Ginny. She tells us to leave them there while awaiting estimates to trim the skirts off the exploding palm tree. Dan and David secure the dangerous area with caution tape and orange cones.

Meanwhile, Harlan invites me on another wildflower walk. Jeff, Gregg, and Mary join us.

Quail Bush

Cryptantha or Popcorn,aka Forget-Me-Nots

Indian Tobacco



London Rocket

Phacelia (Notched-Leaved)

Desert Dandelion… one is pollinated… which one?

Answer: The one on the right is pollinated. (No red dot in the middle)

Bonus Question: What plant is below the dandelions?

Answer: Primrose

Answer to Quiz:
1: cheesebush
2: wishbone
3: pygmy cedar
4: lupine
5: phacelia
6: primrose
7: whispering bells

What’s Blooming on the Indian Palms Trail?

Sacred Datura or Jimson Weed…

Goosefoot, another invasive species… aka Pigweed and Amaranth…

California Evening Primrose…


Notch-Leaved Phacelia and Rock Daisies…

Mt. San Jacinto blooms snow caps in the distance…

London Rocket and Rock Daisies…

Barrel Cactus…

A social trail…

More Barell Cactus…

Mt. San Jacinto again…

A hillside getting ready to bloom…


Another hillside ready to explode with color!

Sahara Mustard Weed

An Invasive Pest

This mustard is native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East and has now become an unwelcome weed of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and the desert valleys of Southern California. The plant grows quickly and crowds out the native flora by monopolizing moisture in the soil. When seeds start forming, as early as January, the plant self-fertilizes and deposits seeds in the sandy soil. Winter rains then moisten the seed coats and turn them into a sticky gel ready to adhere to people, animals, and objects who then help distribute and drop seeds into the ground. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

So, how did this sandy soil annual invasive species, Brassica tournefortii get here? The most logical answer is from imported date palm trees. According to tsusinvasives.org, Texas Invasive Species Institute, Sahara mustard was first discovered in the U.S. in 1927 near California’s Coachella Valley. It was likely introduced as a seed contaminant.

It’s Monday, not our day to “work”. Jeff and I have nothing better to do, so we hike out to Moon Country looking for Dan, the Land Steward extraordinaire, and his truck. Why?… to help pull Sahara Mustard weeds! Why not?

But what a windy day it is! By the time we find Dan pulling mustard along the ridge, my ears sting and my muscles are sore from plowing through the wind.

We find him parked off trail amid a blowing field of huge Brassica tournefortii. We do our best to help out, leaving a trail of destruction…

Sweaty, thirsty, and in need of a break… I stop to get a picture of blooming fields of desert sunflowers. White-capped Mt. San Gorgonio smiles down upon us.

And then… woo-hoo! Chicory buds and blossoms flap in the wind!

When we are done we gratefully accepted Dan’s offer for a ride back to the Palm House where our RV awaits us.

Going on a Ghost Hunt

And Stopping to Smell the Flowers!

All we know is that the ghost flower is somewhere near Horseshoe Palms and the last time we looked for it we ended up on a goose-chase of a ghost hunt.

So we start on the Pushawalla wash and head down to Horseshoe Palms.

Before we even get to the wash trail, however, wildflowers slow us down as I stop to take pictures.

Purple Notch-Leaved Phacelia and white Chicory…

Cryptantha or Desert Forget-Me-Not…

Golden Poppies…

Bladder Pod…

On the wash trail we encounter red Woody Bottle Washer Primrose and white and pink Brown-Eyed Primrose.

Some type of Box Thorn…

Sandblazing Star…


A Pincushion and Desert Dandelion…

Little Golden Poppy…

Brown-Eyed Primrose and Woody Bottle Washer Primrose…

Our Secret Garden… on the Pushawalla wash…

There’s a lot going on here. Rock Daisies and Whispering Bells bloom amongst old favorites.

California Evening Primrose…

Such tiny delicate yellow flowers…

A beautiful picture of an opened Sandblazing Star…

Arizona Lupine…

Desert Sunflowers and Lupine…

More Desert Sunflowers…

Not sure yet what this prickly little guy is yet…


We find the ghost!

There’s a patch of Ghost Flowers hugging the side of a hill right before we descend into Horseshoe Palms! Sooo beautiful!

As we descend upon the plateau into Horseshoe Palms, a desert bouquet awaits us.

And then I look up and see movement in the hills below Pushawalla ridge and above Horseshoe Palms. How did these folks get off trail here?

The arrow in the picture below shows where the trail is. Right after I take this pic, the 2 people start sliding down the hill.

I will never find out how they got off trail or what possessed them to venture off trail to begin with. This is an example of what NOT TO DO when hiking in the Coachella Valley Preserve.

We take a social trail back to the Visitor Center.

And then we discover a new surprise as we ascend out of Horseshoe Palms toward Pushawalla Ridge…

Desert Five Spot

It’s not open yet but I can hardly wait!

When the flower opens, it looks like this:

 picture courtesy of a Preserve visitor 

So, this is my new wildflower goal: find and take a picture of an open Five Spot!

Dying to Find Dye Weed

Burro Bush, Cattle Spinach, Dye Weed, Four-Winged Saltbush, Sandpaper Bush… Oh, My!

Okay, all of these desert bushes are pale green in color and to the untrained eye have similar leaves.

Way back in October when Jeff and I first arrived on the Preserve, Harlan took me on a mini plant hike. He showed me Indigo, Brittle Bush, Cattle Spinach, Alkali Golden Bush, Four-Winged Saltbush, Cheesebush, and Dye Weed. I remember Dye Weed the most because when I squished my fingers on the dried flower bloom, my fingers turned yellow-orange.

So…. as Jeff and I become increasingly obsessed with correctly identifying desert plants and blooming wildflowers, I wonder where Dye Weed is. I know Burro Bush leaves a lemony scent on my fingers and Sandpaper Bush is REALLY scratchy. Cattle Spinach can be a little scratchy and Four-Winged Saltbush is still a mystery to me. But where is the finger-staining Dye Weed?

Finally, we ask Harlan and he sends us to the pink  boarded up “jack-rabbit house” on the  McCallum Trail…

Eureka… We found it!

We continue hiking through Moon Country. Just look at the lush fields of yellow Desert Sunflowers!

It’s January. Wildflowers usually start blooming in March!

Below, I capture Brown-Eyed Primrose blooming and Desert Sunflowers getting ready to burst open in yellow splashes.

Here is Four-Winged Saltbush in the wash below the ridge to Moon Country. It’s all about the dried flowers that resemble the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter.

As we return to the Visitor Center we follow a trail that loops from Moon Country back onto the McCallum Trail.

We discover some California Croton.

And some kind of grass growing in the wash.

Dye Weed or not, these delightful desert wildflowers are to die for!

Dollar Road

Beyond Pushawalla

Today we hike the ridge of Pushawalla, descend onto the plateau, and take a side trail marked, Dollar Road.

A new perspective of mountains, hills, and plateaus appear.

And we discover more wildflowers…

Sandblazing Star

Ground Cherry

… And a unique view of the plateau trail leading to Pushawalla Palms and/or the Ridge.

The picture below shows the trail that leads down into Car Wreck Canyon and Pushawalla Palms.

Basking on a rock is a zebra tailed lizard, I think…

We turn around and head back to the Pushawalla Ridge where we take the wash trail back.

The wash trail is alive with blooming wildflowers…

Lupine and Desert Dandelion

Woody Bottle-Washer Primrose

Sandblazing Star and Brown-Eyed Primrose

This spot is our favorite and we call it Our Secret Garden because it is filled with a plethora of desert wildflowers.

Below is a close-up of Sweet Bush and Golden Poppy.

As we continue through the wash we encounter more…

Pigweed or Amaranth

Fremont Box Thorn

Bottle-Washer Primrose in bloom

Burro Bush


Wow! You know we will be back!