Where to Find Wildflowers This Spring

January 23, 2021


Where should we go to see wildflowers and native vegetation in the Santa Fe area the last two weeks of May?

- K. Schroeder


I saw this question posted on the Native Plants of New Mexico Facebook page. With over 7,200 members on that page, the responses to posts like these can be very helpful. Among the recommended places to visit for wildflower quests are Bandelier National Monument, Hyde Memorial State Park, numerous trails in the Aspen Basin Area, the Galisteo Basin Preserve, and the Randall Davey Audubon Center. Several folks pointed out that the best place to find wildflowers is going to depend largely on where the rain falls. Botanical Gardens in Santa Fe and at the Albuquerque BioPark are great places to find large concentrations of wildflowers and learn their names.

Image of purple wildflowers in the desert
The native wildflower desert lupine (Lupinus sparsiflorus) dotted the hillside along the El Cerro de Los Lunas Preserve trails on April 5, 2020. Photo credit Marisa Thompson

In late May and June, I recommend checking out the penstemons at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos. Over 100 species of penstemons have been planted in the surrounding landscape, and it is truly spectacular.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak with Christine Salem, an active Santa Fe Master Gardener volunteer since 2010 and the project leader for The Garden Journal, a radio program on KSFR Santa Fe Public Radio that airs at 10 am on Saturday mornings. When I mentioned that I’m searching for wildflower-finding tips, she recommended the new book titled “Best Wildflower Hikes New Mexico: A Guide to the Area’s Greatest Wildflower Hiking Adventures” by local author Christina M. Selby, which I ordered immediately. In this great guide, Selby describes 40 hikes throughout the state and highlights which flowers to look for and when you’re likely to find them. Visit Christina M. Selby Photography for links to Selby’s other publications and incredible photos.

In January 2019 I wrote a column answering almost the exact same question, but for April instead of May, in which I invited a few local gurus to share their top picks for wildflower hikes. Find a link to the full article at the blog version of this week’s Desert Blooms column. Here are some highlights:

Image of yellow flowers in the desert
Cota (Thelesperma megapotamicum) in bloom on June 2, 2020, along the trails at the Petroglyph National Monument Volcano Day Use Area. For more info on this interesting wildflower, visit the Santa Fe Botanical Garden website: https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/july-2012/. Photo credit Marisa Thompson

Judith Phillips, local landscape designer and author of books about planting climate-adapted species, recommended 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. 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, annual blanketflower, penstemons, white delphinium, locoweed, and maybe sand verbena, which is a wild lantana.

I also asked botanical artist Wren Allen of Santa Fe for her suggestions: “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.

Wherever you go to get your wildflower fix this spring, you’re bound to see more if you slow down. Share your photos with me via email (desertblooms@nmsu.edu) or social media (@NMDesertBlooms) and I’ll add them to the blog.

Visit our 25 years of NMSU Southwest Yard & Garden column archives.

Image of pink and yellow flowers in the desert
Missouri evening primrose near Santa Fe. Photo credit Wren Allen

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.

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