Sahara Mustard

Ron Niebrugge Anza-Borrego, California, Photos, Travel 18 Comments

Along Henderson Canyon Road in 2008.

2008 along Henderson Canyon Road, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California.

Today along Henderson Canyon Road, Anza Borrego State Park, California.

Today along Henderson Canyon Road, Anza Borrego State Park, California.

Sadly, I believe the thick fields of wildflowers that made this area famous are a thing of the past, as this area has been taken over by the invasive species Sahara Mustard.  Two weeks ago, these fields looked so promising, they were  lush and green with new plant life thanks to a rainy winter – historically a perfect combination.  But as I have now learned, the Sahara Mustard grows in sooner and faster then native plants, stealing moisture and blocking sunlight – effectively choking out the beautiful native plants.  You can see in the bottom photo that a couple of Desert Golds managed to fight their way through the thick vegetation, but it is nothing like past years where there would be millions of such blooms.

This isn’t just a problem along Henderson Canyon Road, or Anza-Borrego – the Sahara Mustard has taken over large parts on the lower elevations of Southern California and continues to expand very rapidly.  It seems inevitable that this plant will take over other amazing places like Death Valley – it is really sad.  You can learn more about this invasive species here:  Sahara Mustard.

Comments 18

  1. What an informative article – I was not aware of this problem. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I visited Henderson Canyon in 2008 and thoroughly enjoyed photographing the blooms…hopefully the park can create a program to remove the invasive species. Thanks again for the write-up.

  2. Shocking and sad.

    This answers my question (from the linked article):

    “Sahara mustard probably was introduced with date palms brought from the Middle East in the early part of this century with the development of the date industry in the Coachella Valley.”

    Yikes. I had better get out there this year.

  3. Hey Ron,

    Wow – what a difference. Yet another ecological disaster caused by importing exotic species. Thanks for the post and the link.



  4. That is quite a change, Ron. That 2008 photo looks pretty robust. Do you think that the amount of visibility this place has gotten has sped up the demise from that weed perhaps being distributed by Coachella Valley tourist foot traffic?

  5. Ron – Excellent visible example of the dangers of invasive species. Sadly it’s an all to accurate display of what’s happened.

    Richard – good point. The spread of this stuff certainly may have been accelerated by all of the visitors carrying it all over. That’s sad to think that even I may have contributed to the problem inadvertently. Sadly there’s no clear mass scale way to slow or reverse the problem.

    From what I saw, it seems to prefer the sandier areas – the number of mustard plants in rocky hard soil was much lower. Hopefully this will mean some areas will be bypassed and small areas of mass wildflower displays may be possible.

    John E.

  6. Post

    Thanks for the comments on this unfortunate situation – one John and I talked about last weekend.

    Bob, that looks like mustard in the center of your photo, but I’m not completely sure.

    John, Yeah the plant does prefer the sandy soil, so the rockier areas are ok for now – although it does seem to manage to find enough sand in many places.

    Richard – It probably didn’t help, especially given the sticky nature of the seeds, but the fields part way out by Fonts Point had a lot of mustard two years ago, and that is an area no one really walks. It was probably inevitable.


  7. Thanks for the post and info. I’ve been in Borrego-Springs since March 2 for the flowers, they say it’s still early but I wasn’t aware of the mustard thing. I may stay for several more days before moving on. I’d like to meet you while here, where are you staying? I’ll probably be working the dry lake bed Friday night and Saturday morning. I’m driving a white Toyota Tundra with matching cap and Washington plates.

  8. Post

    Hi Alan,

    It would be great to meet – I will keep an eye out for you. I have to do some last minute scouting this afternoon for my workshop, and have dinner plans. I then have a workshop this weekend so will probably sleep in so I’m rested. How long are you here for? I’m at the Springs at Borrego campground.


  9. Oh no! Your 2008 photo reminds me of fields I have photographed along the eastern part of State 223 in California. Terrifying to think the Saraha Mustard could do the same thing there!

  10. Post
  11. Pingback: 2010 California Desert Wildflower Prognostications « Michael E. Gordon Photography

  12. Thank you for posting these striking pictures. We were just in Anza Borrego yesterday (March 16), and the scene was indeed dismaying. Paid employees and volunteers had earlier hand pulled all the mustard from a small patch where now the flowers bloom as usual. It was an amazing contrast. Of course, the area is so huge that one cannot do more than a demonstration project with hand pulling.

    I work with volunteers who pull invasives at Torrey Pines State Park on the coast. We have our own uphill battle against ehrharta and crystalline ice plant, but I don’t see what anyone can possibly do in the desert. It’s too big.

  13. Post

    Thanks for the comment Lynne – it really is sad , and like you, I don’t see a solution. I applaud your efforts at Torrey Pines.

  14. Pingback: Anza-Borrego Wildflower Reports Updated on 2/4/15 | Natural History Wanderings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.