Even for a state where a certain amount of weather-related chaos is normal, this winter in California felt relentless. There were catastrophic floods, mudslides, walls of snow, destructive waves, downed trees and, now, potholes left behind by the storms.
So it was a genuine pleasure to report this week on a colorful reprieve from all this gloom: Wildflowers are bursting into view, painting the landscape with vibrant shades of orange, yellow and purple. The “super bloom” is the result of sustained precipitation across much of the state; every shower made it possible for a wider array of wildflowers, which each thrive in subtly different conditions, to germinate and bloom.
The lush displays unfurling across California’s public lands have received most of the attention. Throngs of flower-seekers have lined up to visit sites like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The Carrizo Plain National Monument, the largest intact grassland in the Central Valley, has been busy with hikers for weeks as early blooms of goldfields and purple phacelia have emerged and begun to fade, according to Heather Schneider, a rare plant biologist with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden who has been visiting the area periodically in recent weeks for research.
“It’s still beautiful, and the busiest I’ve ever seen it,” she said in an email this week. “But the tide is starting to turn now.”
Other types of plants — bulbs and perennial herbs like blue dicks, onions and larkspur — are “starting to ramp up” now, she said.
The flowers this spring may have been an unexpected treat for Californians in cities or suburbs, who have been spotting patches of vibrant color along sidewalks and freeways and in urban parks, but the super blooms — a term that was first widely used around 2016 and does not have a scientific definition — have produced conflicted feelings for many native-plant enthusiasts.
In 2019, the last time a rainy winter produced super blooms in Southern California, crowds descended on a few sites that went viral on social media, including one by the side of Interstate 15 in Lake Elsinore, causing chaos and the trampling of delicate flowers.
Visitors flopped down onto the carpets of blossoms for their selfies, or carved their own trails to stake out the best angles. The frenzy turned what seemed to be a gift from nature into another disaster, like a wildfire. So this year, officials closed off the area in Lake Elsinore and warned would-be visitors to stay away, meaning that fewer people could experience the flame-orange poppies there.
“We need to be very concerned about what we’ve lost, and what we’re going to continue to lose to, basically, the classic threat of development, combined with how our nonnative plant species are responding to climate change and displacing our native wildflowers,” Nick Jensen, the conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society, told me this year.
He said the squeeze would put extra pressure on land managers to balance conservation of the relatively few remaining wildflower habitats with access to spectacular natural attractions.
Californians who haven’t been able to get to prime blooms in wild areas are still enchanted by whatever they see around town, even if those flowers are actually dangerous invaders and not native species.
Aliza Schloesser, 27, stumbled across an impressive showing of neon gold at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park near her home in Los Angeles. It was a kind of mustard plant, which she said she knew was “technically considered a weed, but it was beautiful.”
The solution, native plant advocates say, is to educate flower-seekers and to encourage them to more closely examine the plants they’re seeing: to learn about different species and where they come from.
Schloesser was already on it. “I was definitely motivated to seek out some other nature spots where things might be growing,” she told me.
What we’re eating
Blood orange butterscotch meringue pie.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Mauro Sifuentes, who recommends Sue-meg State Park in Humboldt County:
“Recently renamed after the traditional Yurok place name, the park is stunning at all times of year. It receives 60 inches of annual rainfall, and during the fall and winter months it has a romantic, misty mystique to it. Great location for tide pooling and landscape photography as well, and you can often catch views of whales, dolphins and seals.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
After a rainy winter, spring has arrived in California. Tell us your favorite part of the season, whether it’s road trips, festivals, sunny afternoons or wildflower sightings.
Email us at [email protected], and please include your name and the city where you live.
And before you go, some good news
The music nonprofit Guitars Not Guns was begun in 2000 after a San Jose couple, Ray and Louise Nelson, discovered that playing the guitar boosted their foster children’s confidence and self-esteem. The organization offers free guitar lessons to underprivileged students in 12 states.
But many classes were paused when the coronavirus pandemic began and stayed that way for months, if not years. In Contra Costa County, the music lessons resumed over the winter, The Mercury News reports.
“We need this, especially after Covid,” Barbara Gorin, president of the nonprofit’s Contra Costa County chapter, told the news outlet. “Everybody needs a little music in their lives.”
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia, Isabella Grullón Paz and Bernard Mokam contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].