Nature and Biodiversity

How a rare 'superbloom' is taking over Death Valley

Bees land on a flower in Laqlouq village, Lebanon June 27, 2015. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Bees land on a flower. Image: REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Katherine Ellen Foley
Health and Science Reporter, Quartz
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Death Valley is defying its name.

The California and Nevada desert, which is the driest in North America and one of the hottest in the world, is experiencing a bloom of wildflowers after an exceptionally wet October. Typically, the area gets two inches of rainfall per year; in October, the National Weather Service estimated that flash floods may have generated up to three inches of rainfall in five hours, likely a result of the El Niño weather pattern in California.

The result is that for the past two months, the suddenly fertile desert is fostering an explosion of wildflowers, unofficially coined a “super bloom.” These super blooms happen about once every 10 years; the last ones in 2005 and 1998 were also due to an El Niño weather pattern, according to the National Park Service. “I never imagined that so much life could exist here in such staggering abundance and intense beauty,” Alan Van Valkenburg, a park ranger who has lived in Death Valley for 25 years, said in a press release.

“When we have a big flower year like this all these flowers are setting seeds,” Linda Slater, a spokesperson for Death Valley National Park, told Quartz. Though visitors may not be able to see the seeds, “they’re there for years and decades,” on or near the surface, Slater says, waiting for the right dose of rainfall—about once a month for every winter month.

Currently, 20 species of wildflowers are in bloom, the majority ephemerals, which have short, deliberate lives. They blossom quickly, and generate seeds before the dry heat stifles them once more. The Desert Gold is responsible for the “carpets” of solid color right now, but Slater says that in other years she has seen spectacular white Dune Evening Primrose blanket the landscape.

“It just makes you feel so good, every day, to go out and see these wonderful [views],” Slater says. Some of the flowers are already fading at lower elevations, she says, but others in different areas are just starting to bloom, and will likely be available for visitors in the next few months. Death Valley National Park is posting updates of the bloomhere.

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