Seeking superblooms? While we may not see dazzling desert displays found in Southern California, there are still plenty of wildflower hot spots following winter’s record rainfall.
Dazzling displays of wildflowers are blanketing vast areas of California, often in places where aficionados say they haven’t seen them before. The kaleidoscopic colors of orange California poppies, deep blue lupine and fields and hillsides of gold have been called a superbloom. It’s nature’s great gift after months of pounding rain.
News reports and social media posts since mid-February have captured in photos the miles and acres of brilliance in Southern California that have lured thousands of people.
Now, Northern California residents are getting a glimpse of the colors of spring. Will the Bay Area also experience a superbloom? Well, not exactly. But it will be a very good year, some land managers told this news organization.
The difference? Northern California doesn’t experience “superblooms” in the true sense of the word, with acres and even square miles of showy flowers, said Dana Page, natural resources program coordinator for Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation.
“Technically, superblooms are unique to desert landscapes in the southwestern United States. It will not be like the superblooms in Southern California,” she said. A superbloom occurs when a high number of wildflower seeds that are dormant in desert soils for a long period of time germinate after an unusually wet rainy season and all bloom at about the same time. Such floral explosions are relatively rare.
The best wildflower displays ironically often occur in nutrient-poor habitats such as deserts and on serpentine soil, where there is far less competition from grasses, and non-native weeds haven’t adapted to the challenging conditions, unlike in a fertile grassland.
But even if the Bay Area doesn’t have the conditions for the kind of displays currently taking place in areas such as Lancaster, a sandy-soil area west of Bakersfield known for spectacular California poppies, or in Carrizo Plain National Monument east of San Luis Obispo, there are still plenty of locations where one can find fields of beautiful flowers.
Soils such as serpentine, a generally nutrient-poor, metamorphic rock known for its greasy-feeling, green-gray appearance, often produce endemic species — plants that are found only in that location or on that soil type and nowhere else. They can also produce some of the best wildflower displays due to low competition from weeds.
The Midpeninsula has serpentine outcroppings in a number of easy-to-access areas: Stulsaft Park and Edgewood Nature Preserve in Redwood City and Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve at Stanford; and in some Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District preserves.
“There’s a bunch of endemic species that you only find on serpentine: jewelflower; dot-seed plantain. It’s a food source for the larvae of the San Francisco Bay checkerspot (an endangered butterfly),” Page said.
Some of the best wildflower carpet spots are, ironically, along U.S. Highway 101, Page said. The same is true along Interstate 280 in Redwood City and Woodside, where orange poppies and purple owl’s clover are blanketing the hillsides.
The Loop Road at Cañada College also has road cuts covered in California poppies, which are also visible from Farm Hill Boulevard in Redwood City for those who would like to see flowers but who have limited mobility or prefer drive-by flower watching.
Page said people looking for carpets of wildflowers can try Grant Park near Mount Hamilton, where there are fields of meadowfoam flowers near the entrance. Coyote Ridge Trail at Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch Park is another hot spot, she said.
Ryan McCauley, a spokesman for Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, said this year’s wildflower season was delayed by the late rains and cold spells.
In many district preserves, there are some flowers in the grassland areas, but “unfortunately native and invasive grasses sprouted higher,” he said.
“It’s a weird alchemy for what makes a great bloom: rainfall, cold and vegetation. We are not seeing the big springtime blooms we are used to,” he said.
But as the weather warms up this week, there could be more blooms in the next week or two.
Wildflower viewing isn’t just a spring thing
McCauley noted that wildflower blooms also come in waves, and while there might not be as many spring flowers, more — and different types — will bloom from May through the summer.
As California poppies fade, pink-flowered farewell to spring and white or yellow butterfly lilies bloom, followed by fragrant tarplants.
Nor should one simply stick to meadows to find flowers. In summer, a walk in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve and at Shoreline Park in Mountain View may reveal marshland flowers such as hairy gumweed, a small, fragrant shrub with many sticky-centered, sunflower-like yellow flowers; bee plant; the lavender-tinted California aster; and alkali heath.
Forests, too, are great wildflower-hunting spots.
“The Santa Cruz Mountain region is a biodiversity hotspot. There are a lot of different types of flowers. I liken it to a treasure-hunt trail; there’s a smattering of different species wherever you go,” McCauley said.
Midpen is still dealing with storm damage and many trails remain closed, so it’s wise to check for trail conditions on the district’s website before setting out, he said.
There are plenty to find along trails in woodland habitats, from drier oak woodlands to redwood forests, such as trillium, the deep-red plumes of warrior’s plume, and fetid adderstongue, a tiny but smelly bloom found at Huddart Park in Woodside that is one of the first blooms to emerge each season in late January and February.
Exploring near and far
Joining a wildflower walk is also a good way to find choice spots. Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is only open to the public through docent-led tours, and it has visitor restrictions. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve also offer guided hikes and are a good way to learn more about the flowers. Peninsula Open Space Trust, which owns large areas of coastal land, has a wildflower walks guide to some of the best flower viewing on its lands.
For those seeking to travel a bit further, try one of the California State Parks, such as Big Basin Redwoods State Park or Henry W. Coe State Park. Henry Coe, which is in the mountains south and east of San Jose, has everything from white milkmaids to columbine, owl’s clover and more. Short wildflower walks of less than 2 miles and less than two hours take place every Sunday from mid-March through Memorial Day weekend.
Mount Diablo State Park in Walnut Creek is having a very good year, said Laura Kindsvater, senior communications manager for Save Mt. Diablo. This year, the cold spring and abundant rainfall meant the flowering season came a bit later, but Mount Diablo also has a hugely diverse elevation range, which means that even when flowers have dried up at lower elevations, it’s common to find flowers at the summit in June and maybe later in the summer, she said.
“There’s a huge diversity of flowers. Mount Diablo has 10% of the plant species in California,” including plants other than flowers, she said.
The group’s annual wildflower walks are sold out, but they have a blog post with information on where to view wildflowers in the park, Kindsvater said. Learn more about the flowers at savemountdiablo.org.
Last week, Redwood City’s Stulsaft Park had a hillside of native grasses and wildflowers: California poppies, blue dicks, tidytips, goldfields, blue-eyed grass, divaricate phacelia and other native plants.
Wherever one goes to enjoy the flowers, McCauley and Page said that flower lovers should heed some simple rules: Don’t pick the flowers — it’s against state law — and stay on the trails.
Tromping on flowers to get that perfect photo or portrait will damage the wildflower fields and make them less abundant in future years.
A flower needs to mature and to disperse its seeds. If you’re trampling and laying on the flowers, you’re impeding the development of seeds and their future germination, which create the flowers we all love, Page said.
Wildlife also depends on many of these plants as food and habitat sources, McCauley said.
“If the plants are trampled, there will be no bees; pollinators rely on the flowers. They serve a really important ecological role,” he said.
Here’s a list of a few accessible local spots for wildflower viewing, along with links to illustrated plant lists:
Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve – 10 Old Stage Coach Road, Redwood City. A 467-acre grassland and woodland preserve and education center. Tidytips, California poppies, Brodiaea and owl’s clover visible on the Clarkia Trail. Parking is limited. Website: smcgov.org/parks/edgewood-park-natural-preserve. Docent-led wildflower tours available through June. smcgov.org/parks/edgewood-park-activities; Plants: calflora.org/app/ipl?vrid=gr13885&bloom=t.
Foothills Nature Preserve – 11799 Page Mill Road, Los Altos Hills. Owned by the city of Palo Alto. The 1,400-acre preserve has rugged chaparral, woodlands, fields, streams and a lake. Recent flowers: lupines, California poppies, mule’s ears and fiddleneck. $6 parking fee. Website: tinyurl.com/52f22thz; Plants: tinyurl.com/ywakptra.
Huddart County Park – 1100 Kings Mountain Road, Woodside. 973 acres, forested slopes, steep canyons and meadows. Many forest wildflower species. Monkeyflower, warrior’s plume, milkmaids, common star lily. Website: smcgov.org/parks/huddart-park; Plants: tinyurl.com/4c7m6a9c.
Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve – 4001 Sand Hill Road, Woodside. Approximately 1,190 acres; private preserve owned by Stanford University with oak/madrone woodlands, grasslands and redwoods. Native wild onion, warrior’s plume, woodland madia and larkspur. Accessible only through docent-led tours, October through the end of May. The tours book quickly. Website: jrbp.stanford.edu/visit; Plants: calflora.org//app/ipl?vrid=gr13886&bloom=t.
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District – More than 65,000 acres of protected lands. Grassland, woodland and forest flowers. Recent hot spots: Skyline Ridge, Sunny Jim/Horseshoe Loop Trails; Monte Bello, White Oak/Stevens Creek Trails; Sierra Azul, Mount Umunhum Trail; and La Honda Creek, Grasshopper Loop Trail. Check website for trail closures due to storm damage. Guided hikes. Website: openspace.org.
Palo Alto Baylands Preserve – 2500 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. 1,940 acres in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Marshlands and grasslands species, including gumplant and aster. Website: tinyurl.com/537rsv8t; Plants: tinyurl.com/57uubstp.
Peninsula Open Space Trust – POST has acquired and protected more than 86,000 acres of land, including many Coastside locations where wildflowers can be found. To learn more, visit openspacetrust.org/blog/california-wildflowers/ and also check out their hiking map: openspacetrust.org/hikes; Plants: Visit calflora.org or the inaturalist.org app to find flowers at individual open space areas and parks.
Ravenswood Open Space Preserve – End of Bay Road, East Palo Alto. 376 acres of wetlands. In summertime, there is the showy-flowered gum plant and other flowers. Website: openspace.org/preserves/ravenswood-preserve; Plants: tinyurl.com/2bcd5f4b.
Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation – The county has created an interactive map for the public to find wildflower hot spots. The mapping tool allows users to see the types of blooms visible along each trail and their approximate location. Recommended parks to view wildflowers: Stiles Ranch Trail at Santa Teresa County Park and Calero, Coyote Lake Harvey Bear, Almaden Quicksilver, and Joseph D. Grant parks. Website: tinyurl.com/m9kcveu6; Plants: Visit calflora.org or the inaturalist.org app to find flowers at individual county parks.
Shoreline at Mountain View Park – 3070 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. 750-acre parkland includes wetlands and trails with wildflower species. Website: mountainview.gov/depts/cs/shoreline/default.asp; Plants: tinyurl.com/3679cxsx.
Stulsaft Park – 3737 Farm Hill Blvd., Redwood City. A rugged, 42-acre park with dense woodland and open fields. Home to Crystal Springs fountain thistle, Marin dwarf flax and Franciscan onion, three endangered and threatened plant species. Website: tinyurl.com/b9knth4w; Plants: inaturalist.org/places/stulsaft-park.
Wunderlich County Park – 4040 Woodside Road, Woodside. 942 acres of steep, mixed forest and meadowland. Redwood forests, open meadows, and oaks and madrones. Wildflowers include warrior’s plume, monkeyflower, Tritelia, western heart’s ease and pink honeysuckle. Website: smcgov.org/parks/wunderlich-park; Plants: inaturalist.org/places/wunderlich-county-park.