During my latest trip to California I’d planned to study cacti and the desert wildflowers of short lived annuals that emerge only in early spring, using what little water is available from winter rains before the summer. We certainly found these - miles and miles of exceptionally beautiful, honey scented flowers in the desert - but as reports on Instagram of a superbloom on a scale not seen in over seventeen years kept popping up in my feed, we changed course, racing to see it.
Nothing could prepare us for the sight of mountains capped in orange as we neared Walker Canyon nature reserve near Lake Elsinore. As we drove closer, sheets of yellow, purple and white too. Heavy winter rains - strong enough to wash some roads away nearby - had saturated the ground causing an eruption of plants in vastly larger numbers. I asked a ranger if it was anything like this every year and his response was to shake is head in disbelief at the scene, “no never, not in twenty years have I seen this.”
He was probably shocked too by the numbers of people visiting to witness the superbloom for themselves, encouraged by social media and the natural event making daily national news in the USA. Tens of thousands of visitors everyday, causing major road closures at weekends. However, despite reports online of wildflower trampling from Instagram selfie hunters, we found most people respectful, keeping to the paths - simply wanting to see nature’s beauty for themselves.
Eschscholzia californica, the Californian poppy, familiar to us in the UK as an almost weedy self-seeder, is the flower at the centre of the superbloom. Its vibrant orange petals glowing in the Californian sunlight, blanketing entire hilltops as far as the eye can see. Looking closer we found other wonders, Salvia columbariae’s stepped whorls of rich blue-purple creating large swathes of colour and Amsinckia menziesii, with its snaking yellow flowerheads.
Various small Lupinus. spp in shades of deep purple to pale blues were a personal highlight, daintier than the garden show stoppers we’re familiar with. Other wildflowers in large numbers included blue-purple Dichelostemma capitatum and the silver leaved shrub, Encelia farinosa capped with bright yellow daisies held on long stems.
Noticeably, everywhere in California and other states of the US now are mustards, which are non-native invasive weeds. Very beautiful in their own right, they’re a problem as they crowd out the native wildflowers but are so widespread one has to consider them part of the landscape.
Lucky to have witnessed this once in a lifetime event, I would recommend visiting California for its spring wildflowers during any year. Seeing entire hillsides covered in flowers more beautiful than any planned garden border is something that will always stay with me.
If you happen to be in California between late March and early April, you may be lucky enough to catch the 2019 superblooms. Although Walker Canyon is in the spotlight, we witnessed superblooms of a larger scale, albeit less orange, in the Mojave National Preserve. While Malibu and Anza Borego National Parks are some of the best places to visit to see large scale blooms each year in spring. Time your trips correctly because entering the deserts in summer when temperatures are over 40C with no phone signal, petrol stations or water sources is highly inadvisable.
Plan your visit
- Lake Elsinore
- Anza Borrego
- LA (1 - 2 hours drive from Malibu and Lake Elsinore)
- Palm Springs (1 - 2 hours drive from Lake Elsinore and Anza Borrego, 1 hour drive into Joshua Tree National Park)
- Las Vegas (1 - 2 hours drive into Mojave National Preserve)