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Desert Diary


Every so often, the foothills of the Franklin Mountains blaze in brilliant orange, thanks to a combination of a wet winter and thousands upon thousands of poppy seeds awaiting just such an event. An El NiƱo year, with its extra supply of moisture to the Southwest, is ideal.

Where did the poppies come from originally? You can gather almost as many stories as there are poppies. One widespread notion is that seeds were brought in from California and spread by airplane over the slopes of the Franklins. Others suggest that seeds escaped from gardens sown by the military or that seeds were part of the intestinal contents of sheep when imported from California. Another source heard that the seeds were planted by a rich widow as a memorial to her husband.

Some or all of these tales might be true, and it seems likely that some supplementation has occurred through the years. Nonetheless, poppies were here long before airplanes or rich widows, gracing the lower slopes of the Franklins and other ranges of the northern Chihuahuan Desert.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Mexican Poppies

Mexican Poppies in full bloom. Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, 29 Mar 2002. Photograph by A.H. Harris.