Dorian Hargrove 8:30 p.m., Dec. 12
Ocean Temps to Desert Annuals
Ocean water temperatures are rising into the mid- or high-60s this month, perhaps to reach the low 70s in July or August. The usual early-summer cool weather along San Diego's coastline, disappointing to many tourists, is mostly caused by the sluggish warming of the ocean water. The payoff will come later: as the ocean gives up heat absorbed during the sunny summer months, we'll enjoy warm days and evenings well into autumn.
Crape myrtles are in bloom around San Diego this month through the end of summer. This smallish, vase-shaped tree blossoms in colors ranging from white or pale pink to lavender, red and blue. "Lilac of the South" is one of the nicknames given to this native tree of China because of its popularity in the warmer parts of the United States.
Buckwheat, a late-bloomer among native plants in our area, is showing off its small, inconspicuous clusters of cream-colored flowers this month. Several kinds of buckwheat, found in dry, sunny locations throughout San Diego County, are the source of some of the "wild buckwheat" honey sold locally. Near the coast look for flat-top buckwheat, common on south-facing slopes. Here it shares space with other low-growing shrubs of the sage-scrub plant community like black sage and California sagebrush.
Western azalea, a native rhododendron, is blooming this month in scattered locations throughout the county's higher mountains. Fond of semi-shade, it's often found growing along creeks and canyon bottoms. Like its ornamental cousins, western azalea's fragrant white (sometimes pink or yellow tinted) flowers are borne in ornate clusters. Palomar Mountain State Park harbors a colony of them alongside a trail linking Doane Valley and Chimney Flats. White-flowering azaleas will undoubtedly appear again en masse along the Azalea Glen Trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but it may take several years before that fire-damaged landscape fully recovers.
The blooming of desert annuals is over, but not so for the stolid desert willows and smoke trees. Rooted to the beds of dry washes throughout Anza-Borrego's lower valleys, both plants gather enough energy this time of year to put on an impressive floral show. The graceful, drooping branches of the desert willow hold fragrant, white blossoms, while the spindly smoke tree exhibits myriads of blue-purple flowers. To avoid the intense midday heat, confine your desert explorations to early morning or early evening. And watch out for bees -- they're attracted to the blossoms too.