16 Spectacular Spring Wildflowers in Tucson, Arizona (+ Where to Find Them)
Updated: May 2
Watching the Sonoran desert explode with color is a truly beautiful experience.
In March and April, hiking trails are transformed with streaks of gold, orange, red, and pink. Contrasting whites and bold blues and purples also make a statement amongst the prickly plants.
Where to find the wildflowers
Find the flowers by wondering through the national and state parks in and around Tucson. I recommend Saguaro National Park East and West, Sentinel Peak State Park, Picacho Peak State Park, Catalina State Park, Oracle State Park, and Sabino Canyon Recreational Area.
Many hiking trails only require you to wander a few minutes in to see blooms. If you’d rather relax in the gardens (in years to come when they re-open after COVID-19), delight in the flowers at Tohono Chul, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
You don’t have to hit the desert trails to see wildflowers, however—roadsides, neighborhoods, and public gardens are bursting with the vivacious blooms, too.
Certain plants bloom earlier than others, such as Poppies, Lupines, Penstemon, Desertbells, and Globe Mallow—keep an eye out because they'll pop up first.
From April – May (early in summer), the cacti follow suit. The tall, iconic saguaros boast milky flowers that only the birds can reach and the barrel cacti explode with warm shades like fireworks lighting up rocky paths.
Spot the following wildflowers in the desert this spring (and teach your friends what you’ve learned— they’ll start screening the shrub and pointing them out to you too).
Yellow, orange, pink, and red
Blooming season: March to June
In spring, the desert turns yellow as if the sun awoke and spilled her rays over the hillsides in the form of Brittle Bush. The two to three-foot bushes, with multiple barren stalks growing from each plant, grow on sunny slopes throughout the season. Although they’re a member of the sunflower family, they are likened to yellow daisies with pale/grey foliage low on the stem.
How does a fragile flower such as this survive in the desert? The leaves have a hairy coating to protect the plant from extreme temperatures (heat or the cold) and are a pale color to reflect the sunlight and cool it down.
Where to find: Everywhere. Just kidding, kind of. There are generous displays in all the national and state parks as well as roadsides—especially North Craycroft near the foothills—and along the Agua Caliente trail. The image above was captured along the Blackett's Ridge trail starting in Sabino Canyon.
Blooming season: March to November (on and off)
Similar to the Brittle Bush, but slightly larger (around 2 inches in diameter), these sunny beauties can be found along the trails in clusters. The grey-blue leaves, lined with silver hairs for heat protection, are found low on the plant.
The marigolds grow between 12 and 18 inches tall in dense patches.
Where to find: You’ll spot them along sandy roadsides or in washes. They dominate the roadsides in Saguaro National Park East and along trails in Fantasy Island (a MTB paradise).
Blooming season: March to May
These tiny plants stand up like snakes, ready to bite. They line the roads at Saguaro National Park (as well as its Ecology trail) and are fascinating if you step out and get a little closer.
The unfurling stem of this plant contains tiny, yellow or white tubular flowers and a coil at the tip. The rest of the plant is covered by short hairs and longer white bristles (ahem, the name).
They're known to irritate the skin—avoid picking.
Where to find: Saguaro National Parks, Sabino Canyon, and Catalina State Park in abundance—especially along the Romero Ruins trail.
Mexican Gold Poppy
Blooming season: Mid-February to April depending on rainfall
This delicate yellow-orange flower radiates warmth on desert slopes.
The edible cup-shaped bloom grows singly at the end of a slender stalk with silver-grey fern-like foliage. It stands up to 1.5ft tall and when in direct sunlight, the flowers open fully. It attracts pollinators (and swarms of people trying to capture the glowing beauties on camera).
Where to find: Head to Picacho Peak State Park, Catalina State Park, and Saguaro National Park West where it puts on a show.
Blooming season: Late-December (in warmer regions) to April
The long-stemmed plants feature numerous flowers—orange, apricot, peach, pink, or white—each with five petals. You’ll find them dancing along roadsides or trails. They grow in arid environments with sandy or rocky soil and are best viewed at sunset, waving to the dying light.
Where to find: Roadsides, Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Catalina State Park, and the Saguaro National Parks.
Blooming season: Mid-March to June if there was good rainfall
The hot pink wildflowers, also referred to as Parry's Beardtongue, can grow around three to four-feet tall in areas with good drainage. The pink flowers, branching from a rigid stem, have a tubular opening with five lobes that beckon birds, bees, and butterflies with their sweet nectar.
Where to find: Sabino Canyon and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (as well as neighborhoods).
White, purple, and blue
Blooming season: February to July
This conspicuous white (sometimes pale yellow) flower, also referred to as New Mexico Plumeseed, stands out in the desert shrub with its feathered white petals and stripes of pink-purple on the underside. The petals taper towards the center, sporting a white style at the base. Plants may have one or more stems with only a few leaves on each plant and can grow up to five feet tall.
Where to find: Saguaro National Parks, Sabino Canyon, Catalina State Park in abundance (especially along the Romero Ruins trail), along the Sweetwater trail, and Pima Canyon trail.
Blooming season: February to October
Also known as the Spreading or Fleabane Daisy, this delicate tangled flower is what old-fashioned flower crowns (or daisy chains) are made of. Standing almost a foot tall, with yellow centers and around 100 lilac or white rays shining outward, the tiny daisy is impressive for its size.
It pops up in washes, along roadsides, and on trails in spring if there has been sufficient rainfall.
Where to find: Along the Pima Canyon trail, Ventana hiking trail, and Romero Ruins trail in Catalina State Park.
New Mexico Thistle
Blooming season: March to May (or later if there was good rainfall)
The showy lilac flower, in what appears to be deadly casing, comprises a cushion of hundreds of florets that attract bees and butterflies. Everything is spiny—the leaves at the base of the flower head as well as those at the base of the main stem.
The plant can grow up to six feet tall and can be found on roadsides, rocky slopes, and washes at higher elevations.
Where to find: Blackett Ridge trail in Sabino Canyon, Oracle State Park, and along the Agua Caliente and Pima Canyon trails.
Purple Owl's Clover
Blooming season: March to May
Also known as the Exserted Indian Paintbrush, this beautiful flower appears to paint the landscape in pink-purple. The herbaceous annual stands 18 inches tall as a single stem covered in fine hairs and slender leaves. The flower, with its thread-like bracts, is magenta, appears in clusters, and attracts hummingbirds.
But wait, there’s more. The Purple Owl’s Clover is a hemiparasite—it extracts nutriments from other plants’ roots (using chemicals) to survive. Gasp… but not for long—they live for one season and die, so take in the streaks of purple while you can.
Where to find: In Catalina State Park in abundance, especially along the Sutherland trail.
Blooming season: February to April (when it is cooler)
Also referred to as South Western Mock Vervain, this native flowering plant provides excellent groundcover that livens up the desert in lavender and pink. The plant has a dense head with a cluster of tiny flowers, each with five notched petals; it stands a foot tall.
It thrives in rock gardens and sandy soils but is short-lived, dying off as the temperatures rise in summer.
Where to find: Saguaro National Parks and along the Sweetwater trail.
Blooming season: Early to mid-Spring
This thin, delicate blue-purple flower, also referred to as Desert Hyacinth, comes from the Lily family. The naked stem has but a few leaves at the base and grows up to two feet tall. At the tip sits a tight cluster of flowers (up to 15).
Where to find: Find it in rocky areas, slopes, and grasslands or along the Pima Canyon trail, Sweetwater trail or Saguaro National Park East's Ecology trail.
Santa Catalina Prairie Clover
Blooming season: Late winter to spring
Also known as Indigo Bush, the furry, purple-flowering native shrub attracts butterflies.
Tiny, elongated purple (sometimes white) petals sprout in clusters around a hairy ball-shaped flower bract. The leaflets, also tiny, are a greyish-green with silky hairs and are attached to a woody stem.
Where to find: The shrub can grow up to four feet tall on rocky slopes on mountain foothills, especially in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Blooming season: February to June
You either know the plant as Scorpionweed, Notch-leaved Phacelia (the name comes from the deep, lobed green leaves) or Cleftleaf Wild Heliotrope.
This was the first I'd heard of it, so I picked the name Scorpionweed to remember for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I like the imagery of the flower clusters atop a scorpion's tail. Secondly, it's a reminder that they should be avoided.
The plant is poisonous—it can cause blistering and contact dermatitis if you have sensitive skin, so steer clear of them.
This herbaceous annual can grow to around 18 inches tall. The leaves are found at the base, from which a red-brown, sticky stem grows and branches out forming violet (purple-pale blue) bell-shaped flower clusters, each with five rounded lobes.
And if I've scared you off from getting too close in person, you can always take a sting-free look at the attached images—rash not included.
Where to find: Along the Romero Ruins trail in Catalina State Park and in and around Fantasy Island Bike trails.
Blooming season: January to May
First experience with a lupine
The first time I clapped eyes on a lupine was in Iceland. The countryside was covered in blankets of purple-blue and it was breathtaking. The locals said that it was an alien but I was mesmerized—here’s a post bragging about the purple beauties.
My first spring in Tucson was no different. Yellow and blue seemed to spread across the desert. On my first visit to Picacho Peak State Park, I learned that the blue was from a local lupine species native to North America: Coulter's Lupine or the Mohave Lupine.
Coulter's Lupine is an annual herb found in sandy areas, washes, and slopes at lower elevations. The inflorescence (group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem) forms a spiral of blue-purple that appears as an illusion when you view it from a bird’s eye.
The flower darkens when it ages and the banner (upper petal) has a spot that changes from yellow to red after pollination aka has magical color-changing powers alerting pollinators to move on. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more badass, it explodes (yep, self destructs) when ripe to scatter its seeds.
Where to find: See them bloom, up to 16 inches tall at Picacho Peak State Park and Saguaro National Park East.
Blooming season: February to April with good rainfall
Also known as a Desertbell, this annual herb is found along roadsides and washes. The bold, blue, bell-shaped flowers have five lobes, white anthers, and fuzzy heart-shaped leaves.
The plant can grow up to 2ft tall, although it rarely does.
Where to find: They bloom boldly along the Pima Canyon trail, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and in neighborhoods—don't be shy to stop by.
Don't mind me stopping to smell (and photograph) ALL the flowers, rattling off facts and names to anyone in earshot—not that many people these isolated days.
I hope you learned something new and are encouraged to go exploring (just mind the Scorpionweed). If I mislabelled something or you've found a wildflower that you want me to include on the list, let me know. :)