Celebrity Wildflower Sightings

January 19, 2019


We are considering a trip in mid-April to the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas and want to find out when desert wildflowers are most likely to bloom and where to find them.

- K. Kinter


My first thought was to tell you to visit in late summer, during monsoon, because that’s when so many native plants have evolved to bloom and develop seeds. But the buzz among New Mexico’s wildflower enthusiasts is that all of the rain and snow we’ve been getting in the past month across the state might mean a particularly robust bloom this spring.

Image of yellow primrose
Missouri evening primrose near Santa Fe. Photo credit W. Allen

Judith Phillips, local landscape designer and author of books about planting climate-adapted species, recommends visiting the Volcano Day Use Area just west of Albuquerque. It is part of the Petroglyph National Monument, but access for the volcano trails and parking area is up on the mesa off of Atrisco Vista Blvd. She also recommends the Placitas Open Space trails in the Sandia Foothills off of Hwy 165. This area is part of the City of Albuquerque’s Open Space Division, which includes 29,000 acres in and around the city. If you can make it further south, approximately 100 miles from Albuquerque, Phillips says, “The Chupadera Trail at Bosque del Apache could be really good this spring.”

While you’re at it, if you keep driving south another two and a half hours, you might have the timing just right to see the glowing carpet of Mexican gold poppies that smother the base of the Franklin Mountains and pepper the base of the Organ Mountains for a few precious weeks each year.

Here’s Phillips’ list of flowers to look for on your visit: white-tufted evening primrose, desert marigold, fleabanes, blue flax, scorpionweed, sundrops, various verbenas, Santa Fe phlox (though since it's usually found at 6,500-7,000 ft, mid-April may be just a little too early), annual blanketflower, penstemons (Fendler’s, James’, and Palmer’s), white delphinium, locoweed, and maybe sand verbena, which is a wild lantana.

Image of Scarlet globemallow flowers
Scarlet globemallow at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas. Photo credit M. Thompson

April might be a smidge too early for many Santa Fe flowers. Phillips pointed out that bloom times depend on how quickly the soil warms, which can be accelerated or delayed by day and night temperatures.

I also asked botanical artist Wren Allen of Santa Fe for her suggestions. Allen said that even though cactus and yucca bloom times tend to be more May and June up there, there are great places to go hunting for early flowers in and around Santa Fe County: “The sunny upslope side of the Aspen Vista Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest has a lovely mix of wildflower species pretty much all late spring and summer.” Tesuque Creek Trail is steeper, narrower, and more challenging, but it may be worth the trek once you see the lovely crimson columbines. Winsor Trail Loop, Nambe Lake Trail, and Cerrillos Hills State Park are a few others that Allen listed. For links to excellent wildflower resources and details on how to access these trails, visit Desert Blooms.

Both Phillips and Allen highly recommend visiting the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. I was there for the quickest garden tour ever and can’t wait to go back when I have a little more time to explore. I hope to find other flower lovers out on the trails this spring. One way to get the freshest insights on where to explore is to frequently check posts on the Native Plants of New Mexico Facebook page. It’s a public group where people post about flowers like they’re celebrity sightings – superstars of the high desert.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!