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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 5th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 5

Flower power: The Central Coast's winter rainfall has wildflower hot spots revving up for a 'super bloom'

By BRENNA SWANSTON

View a slideshow of wildflowers around the Central Coast.

I pulled off on the side of Figueroa Mountain Road, parking just a couple windy miles up from the Figueroa campground. Stepping outside, I spotted a rogue sheet of poppies, and some bushes of pitcher sage splotched here and there on the hillside. But it wasn’t what I’d been hoping for. It wasn’t a “super bloom.”

Behind my vehicle, three older women piled out of theirs, two packing small dogs under their arms. They stepped up the hillside, wobbling in their heels, toward where I stood.


POPPIN’
Figueroa Mountain is expected to host its own “super bloom” during the second half of April, according to Bill Waycott of the California Native Plant Society. Right now, the Carrizo Plain (pictured) is blooming in full force.
PHOTO BY BRENNA SWANSTON

“Is this the place where everyone comes to see the flowers?” one woman asked me, as her Pomeranian picked its tiny feet over some jagged rocks. When I nodded, the woman sighed with disappointment, and said they should have gone to Carrizo Plain instead.

She wasn’t wrong—the Carrizo Plain is indeed booming with wildflowers, and that bloom should be going strong through the second weekend in April, according to California Native Plant Society President Bill Waycott. But Figueroa Mountain should see a super bloom of its own, as well—just a little later on in the month.

“That area is higher in elevation, so you can expect to see that perhaps by mid-April,” Waycott told the Sun.

He explained that the higher an area’s elevation is, the later its wildflower season will be because of the temperature difference. Lowland areas see higher temperatures during the winter, so their flower blooms happen earlier on in spring. But for places like Figueroa Mountain, the flowers will really take off in the second half of April.

“It’s not like you can go all over and see the flowers at one particular time,” Waycott said. “You have to kind of keep your eyes open and do some scouting.”

This spring’s wildflower bloom should be more intense than usual. Waycott said it should be the type of bloom we see about once every 20 years. That’s because the Central Coast got its fair share of rainfall in the winter, and the rains came early and often.

“We had quite a bit more rainfall, and that is one contributing factor,” Waycott said. “But the second contributing factor is that it came on a regular frequency. There was never a period that things dried out significantly. That really helps maintain plant growth.”

Usually, thanks to California’s desert-like climate, months on end go by without rainfall, he said. And when that happens, many of the wildflower seedlings that might have bloomed end up dying because they run out of water.

Joan Easton Lentz, author and naturalist, told the Sun before last year’s wildflower bloom that since wildflowers on the Central Coast are so used to drought-stricken seasons, they react extra strongly to good rainfall.

“They are adapted to scarce rainfall, and they will bloom for a certain amount of time when they get it,” Lentz said in last year’s interview. “I think it’s been so long—like last year and the year before there was so little rain—and we got some this year that they are taking the chance and looking pretty good.”

On top of that, Waycott pointed out that this season’s rains started coming consistently in October, whereas they usually don’t hit until late November or December.

“That really got things going even better,” he said. “It’s just a win-win-win. More rainfall, earlier rainfall, and regular frequencies that make it happen.”

The super bloom will showcase a “nice mixture” of wildflowers, many of them yellow and blue hued, he said. The pink owl’s clover will also be in bloom, as will the desert candle.

Different wildflowers will spring up at different spots around the Central Coast, based on climate, rainfall, and soil types. Waycott said one of the reasons Carrizo Plain hosts such a wide variety of flowers is that the area is home to several types of soil.

He added Shell Creek Road as another spot to catch the bloom at through the second weekend in April.

“That’s a knockout right now as well,” Waycott said. “It probably doesn’t have the full palette of diversity that Carrizo has, but it is just wall-to-wall flowers right now.”

To catch the current wildflowers, Waycott recommended that people driving from the Santa Maria area head up Highway 166 to Soda Lake Road, which leads straight to Carrizo Plain National Monument.

“It’s going to take people an hour to an hour and a half, but that’s what you have to do to get to the flowers this year,” he said.

Another option is to stop at Shell Creek Road off Highway 58, or wait a little while and catch the bloom on Figueroa Mountain.

Waycott said he’s particularly interested in the Carrizo Plain because it has the same soil and climate as the San Joaquin Valley, but was never developed like many of the counties in that area.

“We have this sort of window into the past of what it probably looked like when the first human beings came to the area,” he said. “If we want to appreciate our heritage and look to what nature created before we all came and developed these areas, Carrizo Plain, Shell Creek—these are really good places to go to see that.”

Brenna Swanston can be reached at bswanston@santamariasun.com.




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