Flora Vistas

Where to Find Spring’s Wildflowers

White sprays of Ceanothus blanket the hillsides, lupines bloom along the sides of the road, and a hike up any of our local creeks and canyons will reveal even more lovely reminders that spring in the South Coast area arrives well before the official date of the equinox later this month. Last year was a record year for viewing wildflowers, but there may be some good spots this year, too. The rains last week may have arrived just in time to make up for that long dry period after the first of the year. The deserts are typically the first place to look for wildflowers. Before you hop in your car to go find them, there are some great resources to help you pinpoint the best show. Tomorrow begins the first listing at the Theodore Payne Foundation’s Web site. Its Wildflower Hotline is a great compilation of information from all around southern California. It also has a big list of links to other sites of interest from the National Parks Service to individual parks such as the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Type in and click the wildflower hotline link on the homepage. Anza Borrego Park will also send you a postcard notifying you of its best prediction for peak bloom in that area. Send a stamped, self-addressed postcard in an envelope to Wildflowers, A.B.D.S.P., 200 Palm Canyon Dr., Borrego Springs, ca 92004. One tidbit gleaned from the Internet: “This may be a good year for cactus since they tend to bloom better in dryer years.” That would be reason enough to go; it’s almost miraculous to see these spiny, lumpy plants crowned with bright blooms in pink, red, or yellow. Closer to home, the bizarre sea dahlia, Coreopsis gigantea, is starting to bloom. This wonderful daisy relative is native to just a few places that include all the Channel Islands and a narrow strip of land just along the coast here on the mainland. Even that little strip is interrupted by natural and humanmade formations so that a few populations exist just south of Point Conception and then again on Point Dume and Point Mugu in Ventura County. The carrot-like foliage appears briefly from the stumpy, succulent stems just before the bright yellow flowers and is gone soon after the rains stop, so now is the time to see them at their best. North of Santa Barbara the flowers will come a little later. One special spot is the Carrizo Plain National Monument. This remnant of California’s once vast grassy interior is still home to elk, deer, and lots of other wildlife. Sandhill cranes and many other migrating birds make a stopover at Soda Lake for an added thrill. Depending on rains, the plain itself can be a brilliant patchwork of yellows, blues, reds, and whites. The succession of different species can go on for weeks if the weather cooperates. Check the Web site for updates: You may want to take some resources along on your expedition and try to fit a name to those vivid blooms. One handy book just published last year provides a guide to some of the more commonly encountered species in the Santa Barbara foothills. Hugh Margerum and David Powdrell are avid hikers and they finally decided to compile all their photos and the information they’d been gathering into a compact volume that’s easy to carry along on the trail or in the car. A Field Guide to the Common Plants of the Santa Barbara Foothills and Southern California is available at local bookstores or The entries are organized by flower color for easy reference and include information on the overall size of the plant, leaf characteristics, flower characteristics, habitat notes, and any other interesting facts they were able to assemble and are accompanied by big, clear photos. The authors hope it will “further an appreciation for the year-round natural beauty we are fortunate to have in our backyard.” This book will serve beginners well, but if you want more, there are other guides that offer a more complete listing of the species in a particular spot. Nature Guide to the Mountains of Southern California by Car & Foot: Including the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, Cuyamaca, and Palomar Mountains is a good one for our area as well. In the ever-expanding trend of utilizing the Internet for information, it is possible now to also download a guide to desert flowers straight to your iPod or other personal device. You can find it at By all means take your camera, too. Even if you can’t identify the flower in question while you are in the field, you may be able to find a match in the library, or through some of these Internet resources. Whether you feel compelled to know their names or not, get out and enjoy the flowers that our unique climate and this early spring season are offering. Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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