Spring has sprung in Southern California, which means it's peak wildflower time. This winter's scant rainfall has given us fewer blooming flora than in years past, however there is still a rich diversity of wildflowers on view in Southern California's parks, forests, and reserves. So get your walking shoes and cameras ready, for here are some highlights of where to see these local treasures:
- El Rio de Los Angeles State Park. This relatively new state park, located in Cypress Park, at the confluence of the L.A. River and the Arroyo Seco, (just two miles north of downtown Los Angeles), has a restored wetlands and a loop trail, making it a premier wildflower viewing location. Species blooming now include: California Hyacinth, orange Monkey Flower, Black Sage, and the always stunning, saffron-colored California Poppy.
- Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County. Currently this national forest has over a hundred blooming wildflower species. Walking its San Juan Loop Trail you'll see many of them including: Wide-Throated Yellow Monkey Flower, purple Larkspurs, Chia, the exotic-looking Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla), and several different Lupine species.
- Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Center Located in the Santa Clarita Valley off the 14 Freeway near Agua Dulce, this canyon area has wildflowers growing among its dramatic rock formations. Species now blooming include: Black Sage, Golden Bush, Goldfields, and Monkey Flower.
- Figueroa Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest There are plenty of wildflowers throughout this national forest, specifically its Figueroa Mountain and Happy Valley areas located near Santa Barbara. Species currently in bloom include: large displays of California Poppies, as well as Chocolate Lilies, Mariposa Lilies, Baby Blue Eyes, Chia, Chinese Houses, Hummingbird Sage, Golden Yarrow, red Paintbrush and Cream Cups.
- For a more formal view of local wildflowers, visit the South Coast Botanic Garden. This botanical gem in Palos Verdes has a superb Mediterranean Garden full of California natives and wildflowers. Some of the species blooming now include: Arroyo Lupine, Bird's Eye Gilia, Canterbury Bells, Chinese Houses, Clarkia, Conejo Buckwheat, Foothill Penstemon, Seaside Daisy, and bursts of gold-colored California Poppies.
If the wildflowers of Southern California's open meadows and forests increase your desire to see wildflowers closer to home, perhaps you should consider planting wildflowers in your own garden.
But are wildflowers "wild" if you plant them two steps from your front door?
"Of course they're still wild," says Genevieve Arnold, Seed Program Manager at the Theodore Payne Foundation, a Los Angeles based, non-profit nursery specializing in California natives. "Everything came from the wild originally and wildflowers, whether they're planted in your garden or along the Arroyo Seco, undergo the same plant life cycles they do in the wild." Wildflowers are known as "straight species," meaning they grow naturally in the wild. This differs from "hybrids," which are produced by cross-breeding two species with each other to create a third, unique plant that does not naturally occur in the wild. The Theodore Payne Foundation specializes in growing and selling straight species of California wildflowers and natives in both plant and seed forms (they also run the popular Wildflower Hotline, which is updated weekly during spring).
Although we're deep in wildflower season it's not too late to plant wildflowers in your home garden. For instant gratification, you can buy most wildflowers in pots to plant now. If you'd prefer a more long-term and economical approach, there is seed planting. Most wildflower seeds are planted in the late fall and winter, however there are several wildflower species that can be seed planted in the spring, including:
Arroyo Lupine (Lupinus succulentus);
Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii);
Bird's Eye Gilia (Gilia tricolor);
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica);
Caterpillar Plant (Phacelia cicutaria);
Clarkia also known as "Mountain Garland" (Clarkia unguiculata);
Five Spot (Nemophilia maculata)
However you experience SoCal's wildflowers, enjoy them now before their delicate, colorful blooms give way to summer's heat and sun.