Beautiful wildflowers covering the hills with splashes of color make many of us want to find just the right wildflower to depict in a piece of artwork. Here, in Southern California, the first wildflower that we often think of is our state flower, the California poppy. Hills covered with the glorious and fabulous orange of the California poppy signals spring is here! However, conditions have to be just right for the poppies to bloom. Just the right temperature, the perfect amount of rain and certain amount of sunshine are all needed to make those conditions just right. So what happens now that we are in a severe drought? Where do we find beautiful California wildflowers?
Spring is coming to an end, and summer is just around the corner. With the severe drought it might seem that wildflowers are impossible to find. If you know where to look, you just might find some incredibly beautiful wildflowers. Los Angeles is close to many nature areas with well marked hikes that lead us through beautiful wildflowers. However, it is easy to walk right by or step on these wondrous flowers. I like to remind people to look down when they are taking a walk or hike on nature trails. Some wildflowers are tiny, often measuring around 1/2" or less. They often grow in patches, close to the ground, sometimes under or near other larger plants. Pine needles or other leaves and small branches may cover them up, making it easy to walk right by and not notice an incredibly beautiful wildflower.
The beautiful, delicate and graceful Mount Pinos Larkspur,Delphinium parryi ssp.purpeum, is one such wildflower. This wildflower is endemic to California, and also known as Mt.Pinos Larkspur and San Bernardino Larkspur. The Mount Pinos Larkspur has slender stems, up to about 14 inches tall. The flowers can range in color from a pale blue-violet to a deeper purple and are only about 1/2" to 3/4"in size. This Larkspur grows in the forest near my home in the Los Padres National Forest, near Mt. Pinos. Because they are so delicate, and their stems so slender, it is easy to not spot the larkspur growing along the trail. I know to look in shaded areas, near undergrowth for this delicate flower. To appreciate the beauty of this wildflower, it is necessary to look closely at it. I take many photos, from all angles, then enlarge those photos on my computer so I can see the intricacies of this tiny wildflower. The Mount Pinos Larkspur grow in Pinyon-Juniper Woodland,Chaparral and Creosote Brush Scrub communities. Another species,The Mountain Spreading Larkspur,Delphinium patens ssp.montanum, also endemic to California, is similar to the Mount Pinos Larkspur. The two differ in that the Mount Pinos Larkspur has very narrow leaves that are covered in hairs. The Mountain Spreading Larkspur grows in similar communities as the Mount Pinos Larkspur.
As I was walking along a trail near the Nordic Base at Mt. Pinos, I happened to look down and realized I had just walked into and almost stepped on a small patch of wildflowers. They were lovely bell shaped, pale blue-violet flowers with white throats or tubes. This wildflower is a Washoe Phacelia, or Washoe Scorpion Weed, Phacelia curvipes. The flower is less than 1/2" wide. Looking closely I saw many pollinators landing on the flowers, encircling the stamens with pollen falling on them. One of the pollinators was a beautiful tiny bee, possibly a Ceratina bee, which is a very small carpenter bee. This tiny bee's back legs were covered in pollen. It was flying from flower to flower. It was so small, that it wasn't until I was able to enlarge my photos, that I was able to see how beautiful both the bee and flower were. The Phacelia curvipes grow in many habitats, including chaparral, oak, pine woodland and forests.
Growing in the same patch of wildflowers as the Phacelia curvipes, was an even smaller and more delicate flower. This beautiful little wildflower has a slim reddish stem with slender leaves that were covered in delicate hairs. The stem branched out to delicate white and violet flowers. This flower is tiny, possibly less than a 1/4" long. This wildflower is a Torrey's Blue Eyed Mary, Collinsia torreyi. There are four variations of Collinsia torreyi. The flower is so small that I think it would take an expert in flower identification to say exactly which variation of the Collinsia torreyi I came across on my walk through the forest. The Torrey's Blue Eyed Mary's grow in coniferous forests
Continuing my search for wildflowers I came across Viola pinetorum, more commonly known as Goosefoot Viola and Goosefoot Yellow Viola. The viola grows in clumps with flowers barely 1/2" in size. The leaves on this particular viola are pointy with undulating edges and covered in fine hairs, giving them a velvety look. Viola pinetorum are easily missed as you're walking a trail, and I'm sure very often stepped on. Looking closely at this little flower I found a perfect viola, it's small front petal with deep brown-red stripes makes a perfect landing site for potential pollinators. There are several varieties of the Viola pinetorum, with very slight differences. Mostly in leaf shape and color. They are all a perennial herb, endemic to California and grow in mountain ranges throughout the state.
All of the wildflowers I found on this walk through the forest were in a small area, less than a radius of a mile. This walk was in the mountain range know as the western Transverse Ranges of Southern California. The trail I was on is located at Mt.Pinos, which is in the Los Padres National Forest. The summit of Mt. Pinos is 8,847 ft.
Walking through nature and looking closely, sometimes down at our feet, rewards us with beautiful surprises. Surprises that are sometimes missed, like the beautiful wildflowers I've described for you. By paying close attention to where you walk, more surprises are close at hand, like these beautiful blue butterflies I came across flitting along flowers that hug the ground.
The butterflies were landing on what I believe to be an Acmispon nevadensis var. davidsonii more commonly known as Davidson's Sierra Nevada Lotus. This is a perennial herb that is native to California. It grows quite low to the ground in open places, oak and pine forests. There were many butterflies landing on this lovely little flower, it was indeed a wonderful surprise sighting.
From the ocean to the mountains surrounding southern California there are many areas to start your own journey in search of wildflowers. Many of our botanical gardens also have native gardens which have wildflowers for you to observe. Remember to look down, you just might be stepping on a beautiful tiny wildflower.
For information on wildflowers and other plants here are some links to sites I find quite informative.
There are many more sites, the above links are just a few that may be helpful to you.
Another place to observe wildflowers is in your own garden! If you are interested in learning more about starting a native plant and wildflower garden here are links to a few native plant nurseries.
A few links to hiking areas close to Los Angeles:
This is a link for Los Padres National Forest, which covers a huge area of California:
Hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains: