California features approximately 5,800 total species of flora and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range contains over half of them! Water the landscape with all the rain this winter, and we get a wildflower super-bloom. Starting in the deserts where temperatures are already rising into the upper 70s, you can find a profusion of blooms that in some areas are visible from space!
As you travel through California’s Central Valley on your way to Yosemite National Park, you’ll find the nut and fruit trees have pretty much finished with their pink and white blossoms – already leafing out in bright green leaves (not wildflowers, but stupendous all the same!). Driving out of the valley towards Groveland, you enter the oh-so-green (this year!) Foothill Oak Woodlands which are starting to reveal colors with several poppy species showing their bright orange faces to the sun – precursors to a profusion of lupine’s deep purples, bush monkeyflower’s and buttercup’s dazzling golden yellows, Indian pink’s brilliant reds, and the myriad little white flowers that are scattered throughout the fields. As you find your way up the Priest Grade on Highway 120, before you arrive at the Groveland Hotel, look for these wildflowers in the rocky side-cuts of the road.
As the seasons progress, with the late snow melt, you’ll be able to follow the explosion of wildflowers up slope to the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada into late summer this year. As you leave the foothills and rise up the western slope you enter the Mixed Conifer Forest where you’ll find luscious purple flowers such as the wandering daisy, stickseed, and brodiaea.
Head higher up to the Subalpine Forest and you’ll find buckwheat in a variety of shades – from white to beige to pink to rust, leopard lily and crimson columbine in their bright orange and red plumage, and the ingenious pussy paws whose stems act like hydraulics and lift the flowers off of the rocky ground in the heat of day, to lay back down at night when the earth cools. You’ll find some of these flowers as you hike the trails above Yosemite Valley.
As you proceed to elevations above 8,500 feet you enter the Alpine zone which features more flowering vegetation, though the season is short and the temperatures plummet at night, even in the midst of summer. At these high elevations you’ll find interesting plants such as Whitney’s Locoweed which produces a papery fruit that looks like a small bladder and rattles with the seeds inside. Yellow flowers abound in the upper elevations like alpine gold, shaggy hawkweed, and several kinds of asters. These types of flowers can be found in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite.
There are so many California native wildflowers that this doesn’t even touch upon the varieties and colors you’ll find as you explore the range of climates, topography and geographic zones that together make the state one of the most diverse floral areas in the world.
Happy flower finding!