With a name like Death Valley, you’d be forgiven for assuming that few wildflowers can grow in this national park. The name conjures up images of cracked ground, dry sand, and the occasional bison skull. Not flowers and plants!
The most incredible time to see Death Valley wildflowers is during the superbloom. This happens when heavy winter rain leads to an explosion of wildflowers in the spring, and it is incredibly rare. If you have a chance to see a superbloom, grab it!
It’s an experience like no other! But even without the superbloom, wildflowers can grow in Death Valley.
The best time to spot wildflowers in the lower elevations of Death Valley is from late February to early April, but the flowering season lingers until July, with May seeing the best blooms in higher elevations.
Let’s take a look at some of the wildflowers you can look forward to seeing in Death Valley National Park.
1. Desert Gold (Geraea canescens)
Desert gold is one of the earlier blooms you can expect to see in Death Valley National Park. It typically starts to bloom along the lower elevations around mid-February, with your best chance to spot it coming in March and early April.
Desert Gold, sometimes known as Desert Sunflower, takes its name from the bright yellow of its petals. It’s a cheerful flower and on a good year, you’ll be able to spot plenty of Desert Gold blooms among the lower levels of Death Valley.
2. Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa)
Lurking at the lower elevations, Sand Verbena can be spotted in both the open sandy spots of Death Valley and among the bush scrub.
Compared to some of the larger blooms, Sand Verbena can grow low to the ground, but when it comes into flower, it’s hard to miss. Each blooming head of the Sand Verbena comes alive with small flowers.
The center of each flower is typically white, before bursting into a pinkish-purple at the edges. In the sunshine, Sand Verbena will often seem pink, before fading to purple at dusk.
3. Desert Five-Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia)
Desert Five-Spot is a superstar of the Death valley wildflower season. Incredibly distinctive, thanks to its curved bell shape and namesake spots, Desert Five-Spot arrives at the start of the season in the lower elevations of the national park.
At first glance, Desert Five-Spot is a pretty pink flower with petals that curve upwards and inwards. But you have to look closely to see the Five-Spot secret. Tucked at the curving base of each petal is a bright red blotch!
4. Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla)
In the conditions of Death Valley, Gravel Ghost can grow to be a tall plant with large ray flowers. The stalk grows upwards from a base of pale flat leaves that are easy to miss among the dry ground. But when the flowers bloom, they can be pretty spectacular.
Gravel Ghost is a ray flower. The bright white petals have notched tips, sometimes with a slight touch of pink. Several flowers can branch from one stem, and when all the flowers are open, the Gravel Ghost becomes much easier to find!
5. Notch-Leaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata)
The Notch-leaf Phacelia blooms with several flowers at the cyme. The delicate blue-purple of the petals is offset by the stamen and the style that dangles from the mouth of the flower, making it easier to identify the Notch-leaf Phacelia.
Another identifying feature of this Phacelia is those distinctive notched leaves. At the base of the stem, these leaves can be quite large, but they get slowly smaller as they move up the plant. The Notch-leaf Phacelia is also known as the Notch-leaf Scorpionweed.
6. Golden Evening Primrose (Camissonia brevipes)
The vivid yellow cups of the Golden Evening Primrose might lean more towards citrus than gold, but this is still a delightful flower to spot while hiking in Death Valley National Park.
Blooming in spring at the lower elevations, Golden Evening Primrose can be a bright spot on the dry desert floor.
Golden Evening Primrose can bloom on its own, but you’ll often spot the flower in clusters. Look for the distinct curving primrose shape, with four petals gently cupping upwards.
7. Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)
As spring begins to fade into summer, you’ll see some changes in the wildflowers of Death Valley. Many of the earlier low-elevation blooms will still be going, but flowers will start to blossom in the higher elevations from early April.
Among these is the Desert Dandelion, a showy flower with bold yellow rays. Standing between 5 and 15 inches tall, the Desert Dandelion might not be the stand-out of the spring season, but it’s certainly a delight to see.
8. Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
When the flowers aren’t blooming, you can overlook the Desert Globemallow as just any old shrub, growing grayish with broad leaves and multiple stems. But when the flowers start to bloom in the higher elevation areas, Desert Globemallow pops with colors.
Every stem on the Desert Globemallow blossoms with apricot-pink flowers. These small flowers tend to cluster near the end of the stem, creating an attractive spray of color. After heavy rains, the Desert Globemallow can be quite amazing.
9. Desert Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa)
Desert Paintbrush likes to grow in hot and sandy conditions, which is why you can spot it around the mid-elevations of Death Valley National Park. Sometimes known as Indian Paintbrush, this plant gets its name from the red bracts and flowers that top the stem.
The inflorescence of Desert Paintbrush is a fiery orange-red, standing quite contrasted against the gray-green stem. When the light hits it just right, Desert Paintbrush looks like someone has picked up the plant and dipped it in oil paints!
10. Fremont Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii)
While Notch-leaf Phacelia comes earlier in the season, its cousin Fremont Phacelia doesn’t start blooming until spring is well underway.
Standing on hairy stems reaching around 12 inches high, Fremont Phacelia flowers with funnel-shaped corollas that splay open at the top. The flowers of Fremont Phacelia come in a range of shades.
Some are deep blue, others lean towards purple, while some are a much lighter pink. The throat is yellow, creating a lovely contrast that’s particularly noticeable in the desert landscape.
11. Mojave Aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)
A single Mojave Aster plant can have as many as 20 flowers and you can spot it on the slopes at mid-elevation. The flowers are purple-lavender, often quite delicately colored, bursting as a ray from a yellow disk.
The flowers grow to around 2 inches in diameter, so a flowering cluster is a fantastic sight. When the Mojave Aster has enjoyed a winter full of rain, it’s a popular plant with the local wildlife. Expect to see caterpillars enjoying what Mojave Aster has to offer.
12. Bear Poppy (Arctomecon merriamii)
You’ll have to keep a close eye out if you want to see the Bear Poppy at Death Valley, a rare flower that can be overlooked among the scrub. The delicate flower is worth the effort, however!
Bear Poppy has white flowers with large petals that curve gently upwards at the edges. The center is yellow-orange, protruding noticeably from the flower. Each Bear Poppy flower balances on a long, thin stalk.
13. Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
Brittlebush is one of the more common wildflowers of Death Valley, although, in this harsh environment, you can’t guarantee any flower! A typically low shrub, but one that can grow up to 5 feet high, Brittlebush blooms in citrus-yellow.
The bush of Brittlebush is covered in hairy leaves that help to trap moisture in the heat of late spring. The flowers slightly resemble sunflowers, only on a much smaller scale. Alongside the creosote, Brittlebush can be a dominating wildflower in Death Valley.
14. Inyo Lupine (Lupinus excubitus)
If you’re lucky enough to spot Inyo Lupine flowering in Death Valley, make sure to get close enough to give it a sniff! Inyo Lupine is known for its sweet scent that’s highly reminiscent of grape soda. Fitting, for the purple blooms.
Inyo Lupine is one of the latest flowers to appear in Death Valley. Look for it at the highest elevations in the early days of summer.
15. Blue Sage (Salvia pachyphylla)
Blue Sage is a showy plant that is worth waiting around for! One of the last wildflowers to come into bloom in Death Valley National Park, Blue Sage is a woody shrub topped with delightful blue buds and purple bracts.
Very rarely, Blue Sage blooms with rose-colored flowers. Growing in dense clusters, the Blue Sage has lovely fragranced leaves that you can sometimes smell even from a distance! Blooming in the heat of summer, head to the high elevations for Blue Sage.
If you ever thought Death Valley was empty of wildflowers, then you need to visit during a superbloom. This is when the park bursts into life, vibrant with colorful growth. Unfortunately, superblooms only occur roughly once every 10 years.
But even when there isn’t a superbloom, this list shows there are still plenty of wildflowers in Death Valley — you just have to look a little harder to spot them!