Like many (most?) Californians, I was swept up in the 2023 wildflower superbloom, which followed on the record-setting rain and snowfall we saw in the previous winter. The rain caused disruptions in many areas of California; in my area, I had multiple students whose homes were flooded when the levee along the Pajaro River failed. I didn’t have to deal with anything nearly that serious, although I did have to make a lot of schedule adjustments for the field classes that I taught.
In my rather desultory way, I noticed that the flowers seem to be blooming later than usual. In previous years (2017 and 2019) we went flower hunting during my spring break at the end of March, and in some places the peak of the bloom had already finished. This year (2023) we went in mid-April, and the many of the flowers had yet to reach peak bloom. Another thing we did differently this year was to bypass most of the sites at lower elevations such as Carrizo Plain, which were way too crowded to be thoroughly enjoyable, and visit the hills where the roads were less tourist-friendly and thus less traveled. In general, flowers at the higher elevations are always a little behind those at lower elevations.
I took a ton of photos, of course, and the one that most accurately encapsulates the splendiferousness of the views is this one:
This was the typical color palette in these hills. At first I thought all the yellow was due to goldfields, which we had seen at lower elevations, but it turned out to be something entirely different. And note that there are two distinct shades of purple. Who are these? Here’s a key to the different floral colors in this landscape.
Flower A: Common hillside daisy (Monolopia lanceolata)
This plant was indeed very common, and was often by far the dominant flower color in the hills.
Flower B: Purple owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta)
I remember seeing Castilleja exserta on previous trips, in dry, sandy areas. But I’d never seen dense patches of them, so that was new and fun. They are the flowers that make up the violet purple color. It is a low growing flower and seems to occur in open places among grasses.
Flower C: Phacelia
The bluer shade of purple is due to Phacelia. I’m not sure which species, and my observation on iNaturalist hasn’t yet been identified. I think it’s P. ciliata, as it looks right and has been found in this area.
Flower D: California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Last, but certainly not least, was our state flower, the California poppy. We did see some dense patches of poppies in the hills but there were more prevalent in the flatlands—Carrizo Plain, Antelope Valley, and the Shell Creek Road area were chock full of poppies.
What the photos don’t depict is the dynamic aspect of these landscapes. At these elevations there was almost always a soft breeze, and the flowers sway with the wind. It’s really very soothing to watch. I had to zoom way in to record this video, but it’s totally worth it.
Just for funsies, I want to show off what might be my favorite photo of the weekend, taken at the end of the day. I encountered these handsome fellows along the Wildflower Loop at Windwolves Preserve. They both stared at me for so long that I had to take their picture. I never thought a bovine portrait would wind up in my portfolio, but there you have it.
With so much emphasis on the wildflower superbloom, one can easily overlook the torrential and destructive rains that were at least partly responsible for it. Ongoing climate change may mean that California oscillates between severe drought and flooding rains for the foreseeable future. It’s more than a little unsettling, but at least the rains bring flowers for us to enjoy.