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California could see a wildflower superbloom this year — what is that, and how can you see it?

Desert "superbloom"
Heavy California rains lead to desert "superbloom" 02:00

A California mayor recently announced she would shut down a canyon so that the public could not view a superbloom. What is a superbloom – and why are tourists being advised not to visit? 

What is a so-called superbloom?

California's deserts often do not get enough rain to support extensive plants. Superblooms are the result of "a regular series of soaking rains" from October through February, according to the University of California—Riverside. Such was the case in 2019, when cooler weather contributed to the longevity of the bloom, said Cameron Barrows, an associate research ecologist at UC Riverside's Center for Conservation Biology. 

Lake Elsinore Closes Popular Wildflower Viewing Area in Walker Canyon
California poppies bloom at Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. Lake Elsinore officials announced that the popular poppy fields at Walker Canyon will be closed until the wildflower bloom has subsided. Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

The term "superbloom," however, is not a scientific one: It was created by the media to describe these colorful, robust blooms, Barrows said.

Superblooms are once-in-a-generation event and excessive rain doesn't always lead to blooms – bromes, a type of grass – also grows fast and can fill the area, leading to the disappearance of the flowers, said Richard Minnich, a professor of earth sciences at UC Riverside.

Lake Elsinore Closes Popular Wildflower Viewing Area in Walker Canyon
California poppies bloom at Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023.  Watchara Phomicinda/MediaNews Group/The Press-Enterprise via Getty Images

There are several different flowers that can bloom during these events, depending on the time of year and location. From February to April, areas with lower elevation can experience flowers like Desert Gold, Golden Evening Primrose and Desert Five-Spot, among others, according to the National Parks Service.

Higher elevations start to see blooms from April to May, and flowers like Desert Dandelions and Indigo Bush bloom there. Even higher elevations are expected to see flowers like Desert Mariposa, Purple Sage and Rose Sage, which bloom from May to mid-July.

Viewing a superbloom

The 2019 superbloom drew visitors to Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California. Officials called it a "nightmare."

"The 2019 bloom became a national ... and international phenomenon," Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson said during a news conference earlier this month. "Numerous problems occurred on our trails and roads. There were Disneyland-size crowds wanting to see the poppies."

Exploring Carrizo Plain National Monument
Hillsides and pastures covered in a carpet of golden field wildflowers drew thousands of visitors this spring to Carrizo Plain, in 2017, during an epic wildflower "superbloom" of golden fields, tidy tips, tickweed, fiddleheads, lupine, and hillside daisies. / Getty Images

A California highway patrol officer died as a result of problems with visitors during the 2019 superbloom, according to the Regional Conservation Authority of Western Riverside County. Some visitors even trampled the poppies, and the authority — which protects the area — and the mayor are trying to prevent disruption and harm to the habitat by closing trails, parking and access to Walker Canyon. 

The 2023 bloom is not expected to be as vibrant and vast as the one in 2019, but it is expected to be large, Johnson said. 

While viewing the superbloom is not an option at this location, there is a livestream of the area, so spectators can watch from afar. 

Super Bloom In Anza-Borrego
General views of the California desert superbloom taking place in Anza-Borrego on March 27, 2019 in Borrego Springs, California.  Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

There is also a superbloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego. The park is open to visitors, who can see "small regional pockets of blooms, according to the park's website. This bloom is expected to be "average" and the weather can either help it build or could hinder it, according to the Anza Borrego Foundation.

The Park is expecting an "average" springtime bloom at this time, and future desert weather will either help or hinder the colorful array of flowers. As its nonprofit partner, Anza-Borrego Foundation is working closely with the Park to provide up-to-date information on the best bloom locations and other tips to make the most of your visit. 

Superblooms have also occurred in the desert of Death Valley, near California's border with Nevada, and appear to happen about once a decade there, according to the National Parks Service. However, the parks service says there won't be a superbloom in that area this year because the area didn't get heavy rainfall this winter. 

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