Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spring Wildflowers of Cienega Canyon

Northern Anemone or Windflower Anemone canadensis
The last days of Spring drift by, bone dry days, with hot winds blowing unceasingly. We've not seen rain since May and very little then. In late May, I scouted the lower trails Cienega Canyon, Tree Spring, and Tecolote to see what was growing. Local wildflower expert Pearl Burns was totally pessimistic about the wildflower season and was ready to cancel our Summer hikes.  The drought, along with severe winter cold and successive freezes in the Spring,  has taken its toll on the wildflowers of the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque. On June 20th, most trails will be closed  in the Sandia Mountains as the Forest Service goes to a Stage III Closure of the forest due to lack of rain. The Cienega Picnic Ground will remain open, but the trail will be closed. 

As a Forest Service Volunteer, I led two wildflower walks June 4 and June 11 in Cienega Canyon.  We found Windflowers, or Northern Anemone, along both sides of the road by the picnic table with two parking spaces before you get to the last parking area of Cienega Picnic Grounds.  There is water seepage and shade here to support their abundant growth.


We parked in the last parking area just up from the Windflowers at the trailhead which is at about 7400 feet elevation. Volunteers from Friends of the Sandia Mountains (Friends of the Forest) have worked hard to remove dead and fallen trees in the canyon where the trailhead begins just a short walk from the Sandia Wilderness area.  The hike along the creek just above the last parking lot has been greatly disturbed and the tree canopy had been largely removed to reveal many new wildflowers growing in the sunny exposed areas.  After passing the beginning of the trail with it's Box Elder, Aspen, One-Seed and Alligator Juniper, Gambel and Wavyleaf Oak and New Mexico Locust trees, I found Ninebark, Wood's Rose, Hoptree, Chokecherry or Capulin, and Red Elderberry blooming. Smooth Sumac and New Mexico Locust weren't blooming yet but are evident here close to the trailhead.

Chokecherry or Capulin Prunus virgiana

Red Elderberry Sambuscus microbotrys

Ninebark Physocarpus monogynus

Wood's Rose Rosa woodii

The trail is initially a concrete path until you arrive at the first bridge over the creek bed. The following flowers were found here.

Hoptree Ptelea trifoliata

Mountain Figwort Scrophylaria montana
(bud stage)

Leaf of Mountain Figwort

Sweet Cicely Osmorhiza obtusa

Leaf of New Mexican Scorpianweed
New Mexican Scorpianweed Phacelia neomexicana

Golden Smoke Corydalis aureus

Purple Geranium Geranium caespitosum
Double nut seed pod of Goosegrass or Cleaver
Hooked hairs on stems and leaves

Leaf of Goosegrass or Cleavers Galium mexicanum

Northern Bog Violet in wet area on trail

Northern Bog Violet Viola americana

Shephard's Purse  Capsella bursa-pastoris
Distinctive heart-shaped seed pod

As you walk a little further on the trail, you will encounter more trees allowing for shade that encourages the growth of wildflowers that are more sensitive to sunny and dry conditions.

Tuber Starwort Stellaria jamesiana

Star Solomon's Seal Maianthemum stellatum

Canada Violet Viola canadensis

Richardson's Geranium Geranium richardsonii

Oregon Grape Holly or Creeping Mahonia Mahonia repens

Dragonhead is a member of the Mint Family

Dragonhead Dracocephalum parviflorum

Drab Buttercup or Crowfoot Ranunculus inamoensis

Drab Buttercup

Doing well, despite the drought, were Jacob's Ladder (both blue and white varieties) and Meadow Rue as were many species of Fleabane. 

Jacob's Ladder Polemonium foliosissimum
Meadow Rue Thalictrum fendler

Spreading Fleabane Erigeron divergens

Update June 30, 2011: The Forest Service has closed Sandia Crest Road, so all of the Sandia Mountains are closed except for the Sandia Tramway. This is necessary due to the very high fire danger.


  1. what a treat!

    wonderful post with so many wonderful flower photos

    thank you

  2. Thanks, Paul, I hope your wildflowers were more abundant with more NJ moisture. All we have is photos it seems. Too dry and now the forest trails are closed!