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6:11 PM Fri, Nov. 16th

Weekend festival to showcase 2018’s abundance of wildflowers

Purple and orange morning glories are among the varieties of wildflowers that are currently in bloom at the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center. The flowers will be on display during a series of free nature walks at the Wildflower Festival at the park located off Williamson Valley Road. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Purple and orange morning glories are among the varieties of wildflowers that are currently in bloom at the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center. The flowers will be on display during a series of free nature walks at the Wildflower Festival at the park located off Williamson Valley Road. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Shades of greens and browns are a given, virtually any time of the year, amidst Prescott’s terrain of pine, chaparral, and granite.

But purples, pinks, oranges, scarlets, and blues? Most years, the more vivid hues are in short supply.

No so this year, however. Thanks to an unusually wet monsoon season, a profusion of wildflowers has joined the region’s ponderosa and pinon pines.

Sue Smith of the Prescott Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society points out that not only did the 2018 monsoon season feature nearly daily rains, but the precipitation occurred over much of the region rather than in isolated areas.

“What that has meant is that almost every trail you go on, you’re going to see wildflowers,” Smith said. “I feel like you can’t go wrong wherever you go.”

And perhaps no other spot in the area features the concentration of flowers as does the Community Nature Center — an 18-acre city park along Williamson Valley Road.

There, no fewer than four varieties of morning glories vie with fields of white cosmos, stands of pink “sweet four o’clocks,” and a host of other varieties.

“I would say there are very robust plants with lots of blooms this year,” Smith said, adding that the quantity of plants is also somewhat unusual. “There is not just the occasional flower; there’s big clusters,” she said.

The public will have an opportunity to take in the peak of the flower season at the Community Nature Center’s Wildflower Festival this weekend. Scheduled from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 8, the festival will offer free nature walks led by local plant experts.

Henry Dahlberg, the volunteer overseer of the Nature Center, notes that while the center typically features healthy plant life, this year stands out. With its tangles of vines and flowers, he said, the park “has an English garden feel this year.”

The experts say 2018 is especially notable because of the near dearth of wildflowers last year.

“People have noticed that the difference between this year and last year is stunning,” said Carl Tomoff, professor emeritus at Prescott College. “Last year, there were virtually no flowers.”

Along with the amounts of rain, the timing of the precipitation can make a difference from year to year, said Tomoff, explaining that variability of vegetation is a characteristic of an arid land.

Unlike much of Arizona, where springtime is the prime wildflower season, Smith said Prescott often has a larger flower showing in the late summer/early fall.

She attributes that to local weather patterns that often feature more moisture in the summer than in the winter. Monsoon rains tend to be more reliable than winter snows, she said.

“That is part of the reason these walks are this time of the year,” Smith said of the Wildflower Festival, which takes place in early September.

The Community Nature Center has existed since the 1970s, when the Prescott Unified School District bought and preserved the parcel. Dahlberg, who was in charge of developing the center at the time, said the natural area has been the site of many student tours over the years.

The City of Prescott bought the center from the school district about a decade ago, and since then, work has occurred on the park’s trail system, which now consists of 1.5 miles of trails. The park is open to the public every day from 7 a.m. to sunset.

A group of volunteer tour leaders met at the Nature Center on Wednesday, Sept. 5, to place name markers on 23 different flower and grass varieties, and to talk about the message they plan to give during Saturday’s tours.

Organizers say tours will take place continuously from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, as groups of festival-goers arrive.

The Community Nature Center is located at 1981 Williamson Valley Road. More information is available on the city’s website.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.