The annual bloom of endangered Pecos sunflowers in a nature preserve just off old Route 66 in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, is occurring now and should continue for the next 10 days or so.
The sunflowers congregate along desert wetlands. The ones in Santa Rosa are fed by the overflow waters of the nearby Blue Hole tourist attraction. The wildflower has become scarce because of the loss of those wetlands over the years. Only seven populations are known to exist.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undertook a recovery plan for the Santa Rosa stand of flowers about 15 years ago. A monitoring report from a few years ago indicates those efforts were largely successful in increasing the numbers of plants within the Blue Hole Cienega Nature Preserve.
New Mexico Magazine recently published a feature article about the Pecos sunflowers and the Santa Rosa nature preserve:
Pecos sunflowers, listed as federally threatened in 1999, are not the only rare or endangered species in this unique ecosystem. Two other state endangered plants live on Blue Hole Ciénega: Wright’s marsh thistle and Great Plains lady’s tresses orchids. There are also non-plant species in the wetland: an as-yet-unnamed fairy shrimp and a roundnose minnow. According to University of New Mexico scientist Steve Platania, this pinkie-size fish has been recognized as genetically distinct from all other known species of roundnose minnows. […]
“This sunflower is very special among rare plants in New Mexico because it’s a very charismatic plant,” Roth says. “It’s only around for a short period of time, but it generates automatic happiness for me with its cheerfulness and abundance. To me, the sunflower here is the spirit of this place—it’s the spirit of the ciénega.”
On a recent trip to Santa Rosa, we recently found a bunch of Pecos sunflowers growing along the side of Reilly Road, near the intersection of Blue Hole Road (aka old Route 66).
Bigger stands of the sunflowers sit less than a quarter-mile behind a gate on Reilly Road that’s labeled “Blue Hole Cienega Nature Preserve.” No camping or fishing is allowed in the preserve. Several homeowners live nearby and keep an eye on it.
Officials are eyeing ideas to boost local tourism numbers, including a festival that would coincide with the annual bloom in September. Also being considered by city and preserve officials is a specially built boardwalk that would allow people to get close to the flowers but prevent them from being stepped on.
(Image of a Pecos sunflower by the author)