Trails in bloom: Late rains resurrect wildflower season

When the California Native Plant Society Redbud Chapter led a group last weekend west from Edwards Crossing along the South Yuba River, folks discovered 35 varieties of flowers in three-quarters of a mile.

“With our dry fall and early winter, I feared that we would have no wildflowers at all to enjoy. But the rains came in time for several species: Western Rue Anemones, Brown Bells, Bleeding Hearts and Fan Violets were in full bloom. I suspect that the Independence Trail East is also blooming nicely, with Henderson’s Shooting Stars and Duchman’s Pipe,” said Roger McGehee, field trip coordinator for Redbud.

“It was amazingly verdant,” said Christina Slowick of Placer County, who also took the river canyon tour.

So far this year Slowick has hiked all her favorite wildflower trails — Stevens Trail, Windy Point Trail and Codfish Falls Trail — all on the North Fork of the American River.

“I try to hike each trail two to three times a season because they’re always changing,” Slowick said.

Table Mountain in Oroville remains one of her favorites.

A severe winter drought struck early in the Sierra Nevada foothills this season, but late rains appear to be resurrecting spring. A different show than years past is now in bloom.

About a quarter of the flowers have opened with the early and middle season flower shows now overlapping. Displays are light, but bright and beautiful and show the promise of more flowers to come, said Slowick.

“Each day has a different flavor to the flowers,” Slowick said, who anticipates new things with the recent rain. This year, Trilliums, Brown Bells and Wood Anemone appear to be thriving.

“It’s fascinating what Mother Nature has to provide for us,” Slowick said.

Nevada County has a great variety of wildflower habitats and a range of elevations with flowers starting as early as March in the lower altitudes and continuing into October in the high country.

Local botanist Julie Carville has heard that Purple Trilliums are in full force on Town Talk Hill off Banner Lava Cap Road and two weeks ago, Western Rue Anemones were blooming all over the hillsides on the upper Independence Trail.

Windy Point Trail’s steep sloping meadow typically showcases a profusion of monkey flowers, popcorn flowers, goldfields and lupine this time of year. This year, the hillside is rich with small poppies floating on a sea of green foliage.

“It is so striking in its own way,” Slowick said.

Slowick remembers the times of “great water” about eight years ago when “everything bloomed everywhere.” These days, the same varieties can be found, but those bountiful concentrations have dwindled.

California beekeepers are concerned with fewer wildflowers, bees’ natural diet will have to be supplemented and could lead to malnourished bees, according to an early March report by Capitol Public Radio.

“The drought was a concern for the park early in the year but the heavy rains in February and March seem to have given most of the flowers what they needed to bloom. We can usually rely on specific flowers blooming either during an early, mid or late time period,” said Ruth Peterson a docent at the park since 2005, who has led wildflower walks for seven years and coordinated them for four.

“However this year we are seeing some of the mid-season flowers like the Bird’s Eye Gilia and Pretty Face showing up alongside the Zigzag Larkspur considered an early flower. Without more rain in March and April, I suspect the season could be shortened by several weeks.”

Docent-led wildflower hikes began at the popular Buttermilk Bend Trail at South Yuba River State Park Bridgeport March 8 and will continue every Saturday and Sunday through May 11, or as long as the flowers last.

Narrow Leaf Lupine and the Tufted Poppy are considered the park’s signature flowers and are the most photographed, said Peterson.

“They can be quite spectacular when they bloom simultaneously covering the hills in purple and gold. This year the Tufted Poppies are now covering the hills but the Narrow Leaf Lupines are just starting to peek out of the ground. Other charming and delicate flowers that are usually seen later in the season are the Fairy Lanterns and the Chinese Houses,” she said.

McGehee recommends “Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California,” and John Muir Law’s book, “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.”

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.


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The Union Updated Apr 4, 2014 11:55AM Published Apr 4, 2014 11:49AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.