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 www.theodorepayne.org
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:
www.blm.gov/ca/bakersfield/carrizoplain/carrizoplain.html. 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 Amazon.com. 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
www.desertusa.com/wildflo/FieldGuide/wildguidewht.html. 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 vahayes@lotusland.org.


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