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California spring blooms

It’s no exaggeration to say that the “superbloom” happening in parts of California is out of this world. Earlier in the month, NASA released satellite images of Carrizo Plain National Monument, located near Bakersfield, in which a large swath of vivid purple was visible from space. Images of the same spot last year mostly showed a lackluster brown. Why is the state so colorful all of a sudden? Experts attribute nature’s springtime bling this year to heavy rainfall over the winter.

Closer to home, the wild mustard blooms have come and gone, but the start of the native wildflower season is just gearing up. Lewis Reed, rangeland ecologist and botanist at Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, explained that flowering times for different species follow a complex, if not somewhat inscrutable, formula.

“Flowering time in general can be influenced by several different factors such as the number of days above a particular temperature, length of daylight, or other physiological cues such as soil moisture,” said Reed. “Which factors are most important, and what specific levels of these factors are key, varies from species to species.”

Ryan McCauley, a public affairs specialist at Midpen, added that the local wildflower season has been delayed due to the high precipitation and cold temperatures that came to the Coastside in the early part of the year. Normally, blooms would be everywhere by now, but warmer temperatures have taken their sweet time to return and the soil is still drying out.

“We’re still looking at another few weeks before the wildflowers are really going to be in full effect,” said McCauley. The season is expected to last into the summer.

One positive effect of the excess water left behind by the winter, said McCauley, is that wildflower seeds stored in the soil can be properly germinated, which doesn’t happen as readily in times of drought. But don’t necessarily expect the sweeping fields of gold and orange springing up in other parts of the state.

“It’s more of a treasure hunt because we’re in a biodiversity hotspot,” said McCauley. “It’s not these vast fields. It’s pockets of different flowers.” In recent days, Midpen field crews have been coming across patches of irises, tidy tips, California buttercups and different varieties of lupin flowers.

Coastside residents, of course, have also been out and about, reporting wildflower encounters on social media in places like San Gregorio, La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve and Pacifica’s Mori Point. Pacifican Ed Ochi understands that such floral phenomena are ephemeral.

“I never really thought about going to see it, until it flashed on me today that I really should try to see it,” he said. “I need to investigate before it goes away.”

Note that winter storms caused severe damage to some open space preserves, washing out trails and knocking down more than a thousand trees that Midpen crews have been working to clear away.

“We are asking the public to be patient as we make these areas safe again,” said McCauley, noting that Midpen posts updates about trail conditions online at openspace.org/trail-conditions. McCauley also reminded wildflower fans to stay on designated trails and to leave the flowers in the fields.

“We really want to encourage folks not to walk into the fields to get the perfect photo,” he said. “We want people to be able to preserve those landscapes and those flowers because they serve a lot more purposes than just looking beautiful.” Picturesque meadows, he said, are full of flowers that store carbon and develop strong root structures, which means pollinators like bees and hummingbirds can do their thing and that other types of wildlife are also able to thrive. 

Source: hmbreview