AP Science

Wet winter gives way to colorful ‘Superbloom’ in US West

The tiny rain-fed wildflowers, no bigger than a few inches, are so vivid and abundant across California this year that their hues of purple and yellow look like paint swatches from space.

From the mist-shrouded San Francisco Bay Area to the Mexican border and across the deserts of Arizona, there are flashes of color popping up after an unusually wet winter helped produce a so-called “ Superbloom.”

A series of powerful storms dumped record amounts of rain and snow across California, replenishing reservoirs, bringing an end — mostly — to the state’s three-year drought, and setting prime conditions for millions of dormant seeds to sprout. Botanists say wildflowers are expected to be blooming well into May, with some areas just starting.

“One of the things unique about this year is how incredibly widespread it is,” said Naomi Fraga, director of conservation programs at the California Botanic Garden. “It’s pretty spectacular.”

Superblooms often follow wet winters, according to experts. University of California ecologists have counted 10 Superblooms in Southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert over four decades. Nine of the 10 blooms occurred after winters when precipitation was higher than average.

In Arizona’s deserts, blue lupine and orange poppies surround towering saguaro cactus, while delicate orchids dot Northern California’s forests, like the calypso orchid or “fairy-slipper.”

North of Los Angeles, visitors from around the globe have been making the trek to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve to see the burst of orange and yellow flowers, which extended well beyond the park’s borders this year. On a recent afternoon, people pulled over along the freeway to shoot selfies with California’s official state flower.

In the low desert of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, too many wildflowers have sprouted up to list, according to the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants. The barren landscape has come alive with Canterbury bells, purple mat and yellow cups.

Fragrant blooms can be smelled from car windows, and their colors captured from space.

Satellite images of Carrizo Plain National Monument, just west of Bakersfield, California, taken on April 6 and released by NASA, show valleys surrounded by craggy mountains with a coating of deep purple. Images of the same area from the previous year when California was in severe drought showed it was mostly brown.

“Extensive patches of blue tones invade the view of places,” actor Joe Spanos said Friday, narrating the foundation’s report on its wildflower hotline about what can be seen in the Carrizo Plain region.

He goes on to describe driving along the base of Mount Figaro and spying “yellow buttercups, beautiful blue fiesta flowers and sky lupines, dazzling white milkmaids and popcorn flowers. There are shooting stars scattered about too. Nuggets of California golden violets can be found embedded everywhere.”

Experts ask people to not trample the flowers. One small city recently closed a popular viewing area after being bombarded during previous Superblooms.

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