It could be shaping up as a banner year for cactus blooms.
"The cacti have had a great winter. They are fully hydrated and can presumably support an abundance of flowers and fruit this spring," said Mark Dimmitt, a cactus expert and former director of natural history at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Even nonexperts who visit desert parks and canyons around Tucson might notice signs of a big-time bloom in the offing.
The yellow flowers of prickly pears, red blooms of chollas and pink-purple displays of hedgehogs are adding dramatic color to the landscape in some areas.
One place to sample the show: along roads and trails in Tucson Mountain Park west of the city.
RAIN BOLSTERS BLOOM
"Cacti and other succulents, because of their shallow root systems and ability to hoard water, benefit from very light rains," Dimmitt said. "Last winter was meteorologically drier than average, but there were several well-spaced small storms" that were just right for cacti.
George Montgomery, curator of botany at the Desert Museum, said he's seeing "abundant flower buds and the beginning of opening on chollas and prickly pears. The hedgehogs have been just spectacular."
He credits ideally timed rains for the bounteous bloom.
"It is perhaps the nearly 3 inches of rain in late winter that gave the resources for this spring cactus bloom," Montgomery said.
It's not certain whether saguaro cacti, which tend to bloom later in the season, will produce an abundance of flowers.
FIND CACTUS FLOWERS
Be aware that cacti are blooming now in some areas around Tucson but might not produce flowers in other spots until later this month.
Good sites for finding cactus blooms as the season develops include Saguaro National Park, with units east and west of Tucson, and canyons of the Catalina Mountains, including Sabino Canyon.
On StarNet: Check out readers' photos of cactus blooms and upload your own at azstarnet.com/cactus
No entrance fees
Just in time to see some blooming cacti, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees next week at Saguaro National Park (both east and west units). Fees will be waived from Monday through Friday in celebration of National Park Week.
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at email@example.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz