Discover the Desert: Spotting endangered poppies in the White Dome Nature Preserve

ST. GEORGE — Spring brings forth an explosion of color and life in the desert. Hiking around St. George provides opportunities to spot a few wildflower species that grow nowhere else in the world.

In this special kids’ edition of Discover the Desert, host Jake Rue is joined by friends and family on a hunt for the delicate white and yellow blossoms of the dwarf bear poppy.

Watch hikers of all ages explore the White Dome Nature Preserve in this episode of “Discover the Desert” in the media player above.

Listed as a federally endangered species in 1979, the dwarf bear poppy is only found in Washington County and typically blooms from late April through May. The window to see it in full splendor is fleeting, so don’t miss your chance!

The poppy can be found along the Bear Claw Poppy Trail in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and just off Brigham Road in St. George. However, it’s most plentiful within the White Dome Nature Preserve, a conservation area established solely for the protection of the poppy and its habitat.

Rue said the dwarf bear poppy only grows in gypsum-crusted soil, a form of cryptobiotic soil crust. While the crust may appear to be ordinary dirt, it’s actually made up of living organisms including algae, cyanobacteria and fungi.

Cryptobiotic soil crusts are an important part of arid ecosystems worldwide, including the high deserts of Southern Utah. The thick layer reduces erosion and retains water to promote plant life, helping sensitive species like the dwarf bear poppy survive. Some crusts have been growing for centuries or even millennia but can be damaged by a single footprint.

“Remember to please stay on the trail so that you do not harm the dirt,” Rue said.

Hikers of all ages will find trails to safely enjoy in the White Dome Nature Preserve. However, bikes and dogs should stay at home when you go exploring for the dwarf bear poppy.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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