Intense Wildfires May Set Stage for Super Bloom

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
Wildflowers bloom in California's Anza Borrego State Park during a super bloom. Garett Wood/Shutterstock

It will take years for humans recover from the wildfires that swept through California in 2018, but nature is much more resilient. In fact, the wildfires are a key factor in a beautiful phenomenon in the spring: a super bloom of wildflowers.

"It's a miracle of nature," Pepperdine University biology professor Stephen Davis told Curbed. "We call it the rejuvenation of the chaparral."

What makes a super bloom so super?

A super bloom, as its name implies, is an incredibly productive wildflower season. Poppies, popcorn flowers, purple lupins and others create an explosion of color in what are typically desert landscapes. Southern California experienced one of these super blooms in 2017, and it was so intense that you could actually see the effects from space.

But keep in mind that super blooms are rare. Prior to the 2017 event, there was one in 2009 and another in 1999. They're rare because they require certain conditions for the wildflowers to bloom in such abundance.

The wildfires provide the first condition. According to Curbed, the fires provide a cue of sorts for seeds in the ground that the sprouting time is neigh. With plant life burned away, there's less competition for sunlight, something the wildflowers are keen for. The heat from the fire will melt their waxy seed coats, and this allows oxygen and water to seep in and germinate the seed.

Purple flowers amid an array of yellow flowers during a California super bloom
A variety of flowers can appear on the landscape during a super bloom. Tom Grundy/Shutterstock

Water is the other condition required for a super bloom. Lots and lots of it are required to germinate the seeds. Since rainfall will be different depending on the region, the chances of a super bloom vary as well. Downtown Los Angeles has seen almost double its normal rainfall since October, around 12.04 inches; the region around the Santa Monica Mountains has experienced about 100 to even 200 percent more rainfall than normal, Mark Mendelsohn, a biologist with the National Park Service, told Atlas Obscura. But University of California, Riverside, earth sciences professor Richard Minnich told KQED there hasn't been quite enough rain yet.

"Right now we're right at normal or slightly above," Minnich said. "So it's looking promising, and we could really get up there in terms of total rainfall."

Other things could influence the bloom, of course. Temperatures — too hot or too cold — could cause things to go south for the super bloom. A rainy mild winter is exactly what these wildflowers need.

Flowergeddon 2: The Blossoming

Flowers blooming around in Henderson Canyon near Borrego Springs in 2005
The hills of Borrego Springs are alive with flowers during a super bloom. Alan Vernon/Wikimedia Commons

It's also exactly what towns around super blooms want, too. When the 2017 super bloom hit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Borrego Springs, the town was ill-prepared for the influx of tourists who came to see the super bloom. Nearly half-a-million people visited the park in March 2017, all hoping to snap or 'gram the beautiful flowers. Traffic stretched on for miles while out-of-towners didn't know where the flowers were, where to eat, where to park, where to get gas and on and on.

As a result, the 2017 super bloom became known as Flowergeddon.

"It was that first weekend in March 2017 that took us totally by surprise," the executive director of the Anza-Borrego Foundation Betsy Knapp told the Los Angeles Times.

Borrego Springs is ready this year, however. "This time, there is a real sense of preparedness," added Bri Fordem, the executive director of the foundation. "People should feel comfortable coming here."

Portable toilets will be placed around the park, dumpsters are on route and thousands of maps of Borrego Springs will be handed out to tourists to show them were the restaurants are (there are 12 of them) and where the two gas stations are located.

Tourists are also encouraged to bring plenty of protective gear, including hats, sunglasses and close-toed shoes, and be ready for cell service to grind to halt since the network will likely get overloaded.

The latter is all the better though, according to Fordem.

"We want them to embrace the beauty of the desert and its lifestyle," she said.