Life blooms in Death Valley

Beneath Death Valley lies a massive seed bank of desert wildflowers, and when heavy winter rains soak deep into the soil, these hidden wonders spring to life. Some call it a beautiful revolution against the tyranny of the desert, while others simply refer to it as a “superbloom.”

TRANSCRIPT

When it rains, it blooms.

Beneath Death Valley lies a massive seed bank of desert wildflowers.

And when heavy winter rains soak deep into the soil, these hidden wonders spring to life.

Some call it a beautiful revolution against the tyranny of the desert, while others simply refer to it as a 'super bloom.'

Science Friday gives us looks at this desert phenomenon.

[ Microscope clicking ] ♪♪

This arid wasteland is the hottest place on Earth, boasting annual temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Salt and rock stretch on into oblivion.

But beneath the sun-scorched sands lies a sleeping beauty.

When the time is right, it will rise up in an act of defiance against the inhospitable terrain.

And it's not alone.

There are others.

Thousands upon thousands of others.

Together, they prove that even in the most hostile of climates, there is still the potential for a grand efflorescence.

A super bloom.

I'm amazed at what can survive here.

I've been a park ranger here for about 25 years.

I've seen three of these super blooms.

1998 was my first one.

And then 2005 was the next one.

And then this year, of course.

'Super bloom' is the unofficial term used to describe an above-average bloom of desert wildflowers.

They're impossible to predict, as they are completely reliant on an overabundance of rain -- a scarce commodity in Death Valley.

Despite a four-year-long drought that has been plaguing Southern California, the heavy winter rain in Death Valley proved sufficient to trigger this super bloom.

A lot of desert plants have some sort of protection.

This one here stinks.

Not the flowers, but the leaves themselves.

And it smells like the rankest armpits.

This is a Death Valley sage we're seeing here, growing out of the rocks.

When it's in bloom, it has these fuzzy cowlicks on the plant, so they look like little lambs' tails.

This flower here, this is one of my favorites.

This mysterious white flower, it's called gravel ghost, which I think is the perfect Death Valley wildflower name.

Here's an interesting one.

This is a rock mimulus.

They're sometimes called Death Valley monkeyflower.

It only grows in cracks in rocks, only in Death Valley, only in a few canyons in Death Valley.

So it's a rare treat to get to see them.

An average year here in Death Valley for rainfall is little less than two inches.

Which is really, really dry.

We are the driest place in the nation.

You need a slow, drenching rain, not one of those summer thunderstorms that quickly sweep away.

When enough rain comes along, soaking deep into the soil, all these hillsides that are normally just barren, in a super bloom, almost everything is covered with flowers.

Seeds may lie dormant for years or even decades waiting for enough rain to support their life cycle.

Fortunately, they come equipped with a natural insurance policy -- a protective coating which prevents them from sprouting prematurely.

This coating may be wax-, protein-, or chemical-based, and requires a generous amount of water to fully erode it before allowing the seed to properly germinate.

Things are pushed right to the edge of what they can tolerate here.

That's the celebration of life here in Death Valley.

That's life at its peak.