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Spring will be here before we know it! And we know that Spring brings numerous blooming wildflowers to our hillsides, coastal areas, and deserts. March through May is the best time of year to see, study, and enjoy blooming wildflowers in Southern California. There are three main areas where wildflowers grow in California; chaparral, mountains and deserts. Here is a simple guide to what you might find in our area this Spring.

Chaparral: These coastal areas are mostly shrubland communities with Medeterrainean climates. Chaparral can be found in dry coastal regions along the California Coast in places like San Diego, Malibu, Santa Barbara, and many areas in between. Here is an article about chaparral ecosystems. The wildflowers which bloom in the chaparral each year are beautiful and diverse in color, size, and type.

Deserts: The Mojave and Sonoran deserts are also prime places to spot wildflowers in the Spring. Depending on rainfall and wind, among other factors, the amount of wildflowers can vary drastically. During a good rainfall year, the flowers are numerous and dot the sandy deserts with color and vibrance.

Mountains: Mountain environments are great places for travelers seeking spectacular views and colorful photos of wildflowers in California. These ecosystems support diverse species of trees and other plants because of variations in elevation, rainfall, and temperature.

Purple Nightshade (Solanum xanti)

Purple Nightshade, also known as Chaparral Nightshade, grows in woodlands, forests, and chaparral ecosystems. The plants can grow to be up to 35 inches tall, and produce toxic green berries and purple flowers. The toxicity acts as a defense against deer and other chaparralian plant eaters that might destroy it. The flowers bloom from early Spring to Summer and can be seen from February to July. They are beautiful to see in person, just make sure not to eat them!

Bush Mallow plants are common in chaparral coastal sage scrub ecosystems. From April to July, the six-foot-tall perennial shrubs produce an abundance of small flowers, which grow along long stalks. The flowers can range from a light pink to a deep pink, or sometimes purple color, which is known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Western Morning Glory (Calystegia occidentalis)

Western Morning Glory flowers are native to California and can be found in chaparral, foothill woodlands, and yellow pine forests. The plants grow to be about 18 inches tall, and produce funnel-shaped flowers. These vines are also popular among gardeners who want to grow native plants. They can be potted or grown in the ground and are relatively low maintenance. Stick around for late Spring and early Summer, as these flowers generally bloom from May to July.

Desert Primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Desert Primrose flowers can grow to be three inches wide. They grow in open sandy deserts and dunes and have pale white petals with yellow centers. The bright centers of these flowers attract native bees and promote pollination. the flowers are in bloom for most of the year, from March to September. The plants grow relatively close to the ground, and when flowers are not in bloom, the rest of the plant is scarcely visible.

Desert Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Desert Globemallow are plants which also flower for most of the year, beginning in February and lasting until November. The orange flowers form in clusters on the ends of stems, and can be up to three feet tall. this plant can grow in many places because it can withstand dry soil and exposure to full sunlight. It is most commonly seen in the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)

Desert Dandelions bloom from March to June in most deserts and desert-like climates in California. The yellow or white flowers, which are about 1.5 inches wide, are related to common sunflowers, and have similar narrow petals. In particularly wet years, desert dandelions bloom in massive numbers and can be seen covering the desert floors.

Greater Periwinkle is an invasive species of vine that is native to Europe and Northern

Africa. It was brought to California by early settlers, and has since staked out quite a territory in riparian ecosystems near the mountains in California. The vine grows low to the ground and expands laterally, rooting as it expands, making it difficult for any other species to occupy the same area. The bluish-purple flowers are around two inches wide, and bloom from January to May.

Sticky Monkey-flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Sticky Monkey Flowers grow on a shrub, or subshrub reaching a maximum for four feet tall. the flowers can range in color from white to red, but are most commonly yellow and orange. These flowers are common in forests and woodlands, but because of their hardiness, can also grow in chaparral and drier areas. The name Sticky Monkey comes from the green sticky leaves which grow as part of the shrub. The flowers bloom from March to August, and are known to attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppies grow in most areas of California. As the state flower, poppies are notoriously known to cover mountains and hillsides in California, but also range from Washington to Baja California. The flowers bloom from April to July, and range in color from white to orange. This is a popular bloom for gardeners, and when maintained, the plant itself can reach five feet tall. Currently, the seeds of the poppy are used in cooking, but historically the plant was used to make medicine and cosmetics.

We highly recommend visiting areas throughout California to see the wildflowers. It is always a good idea to check with the Bureau of Land Management  to find out about the bloom conditions before taking a trip to see California Wildflowers. Because of the ongoing drought, there may be scarce opportunities to view the wildflowers this year. However, there are some great places dedicated to preserving wildflowers such as:

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

The Flower Fields

Hungry Valley 


Works Cited

 The Calflora Database [a non-profit organization]. Available: http://www.calflora.org/   (Accessed: Mar 04, 2014).

Peak Blooming Periods for California Desert Wildflowers. Bureau of Land Management. Available: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/recreation/wildflowers.html (Accessed March 03, 2014)

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