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California Wildflowers: How to Catch the Spring Blooms

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Good morning.

“Driving to Warner Springs, the hairy ceanothus is in eye-popping full bloom along I-15 between Fallbrook and Temecula,” Joe Spano said.

Mr. Spano, the Emmy award-winning actor, is the voice of the Thomas Payne Foundation’s wildflower hotline (yes, a real hotline!), which offers free weekly updates every Friday from March through May, on the best locations for viewing wildflowers in Southern and Central California.

With spring in full swing, and the idyllic super blooms like the ones that took place in 2017 still in people’s minds, you may be wondering how the state’s wildflowers will fare this year.

For now, with drought conditions returning, there won’t be a super bloom this year, said Casey Schreiner, founder and editor of the website Modern Hiker. But that doesn’t mean that flowers aren’t blooming at all, of course.

“Things are still blooming all over California and will be for months and months,” Mr. Schreiner said. “You’re just not going to get those picture-perfect fields of endless California poppies, most likely, this year.”

[See images of the super bloom in 2019.]

If you’re on the hunt for those native blooms and curious about where to start, the answer isn’t always set in stone. With California’s wide swath of microclimates and dozens of factors that can affect whether there is a bloom or not, Mr. Schreiner said it could be hard to pinpoint exactly which canyon or area is certain to put on a show. But even if you’re not guaranteed those Instagram-worthy, poppies-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see kind of blooms, don’t be deterred.

“If you limit yourself to that, as what you’re looking for in wildflowers you are going to miss so much,” he said. “We have just this amazing diverse array of California native plants that all put on a show, really, throughout the year.”

One way to stay on top of where wildflowers are blooming is, of course the wildflower hotline. There are also other resources, Mr. Schreiner said, like DesertUSA.org. It includes information on nearby states as well, but also keeps track of blooms in Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley and the Mojave National Preserve, to name a few.

But even if you’re not trying to plan ahead, you can be sure you’ll find beautiful native plants wherever you go.

“When you’re hiking,” Mr. Schreiner said, “open up yourself to the flowers that you’re looking at and try to learn a little bit about them if you can.” He recommends using an app like iNaturalist, a free app that lets you take pictures of plants and tag them so other users can help you identify what you’re seeing.

Mr. Schreiner, who has been in Southern California for 18 years, said he had the most fun this time of year doing no research at all and just checking out the trails he wanted to. “To me, with that, you get the element of surprise, you learn what you are seeing, and you’re kind of always more delighted that way,” he said, as opposed to setting expectations and then getting disappointed.

And while the state may be on track to lift coronavirus restrictions, we’re still very much in a pandemic. Mr. Schreiner recommends checking with the city or park you’re planning to visit, but count on wearing a mask (some places require it, while others do so only if you’re passing people) and keeping your distance from others on the trail.

Beyond the pandemic, there are also other no-nos if you’re heading to see some blooms. Staying on the trail is critical, Mr. Schreiner said.

“When these blooms are coming up, these are these plants’ shot to make it to next year,” he said. “So if you pick them, if you trample them, if you lay on them to get a really cool picture for your Facebook friends, you may look cool but you’re really destroying the habitat.”

“Most of these flowers only last, you know, a week or two before they’re gone,” he said. “So, let them be there.”


  • Tiger Woods was driving about 85 miles per hour in a 45 m.p.h. zone when he crashed his sport-utility vehicle in February, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said on Wednesday. [New York Times]

  • Nursing homes linked to ReNew Health Group, a chain of nursing facilities, and its owner have been responsible for 10 percent of “immediate jeopardies” — the most severe federal citation a nursing home can receive — in the state since 2019, an investigation found. [LAist]

  • An investigation is underway at the University of San Francisco after a noose was found hanging off the balcony of a student dorm last month. [San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Hackers may have stolen and published the personal information of University of California students and staff members, the system said. The cyberattack affected hundreds of other schools, government agencies and companies nationwide. [A.P.]

  • Just as Ku Klux Klan members assaulted Black Americans and their white allies in the South, vigilantes in California attacked Chinese immigrants in the 1860s. [The Atlantic]

  • The son of a man who choked to death during an amateur taco-eating contest at a Fresno Grizzlies game in 2019 is suing the organizers of the minor league baseball game. [Fresno Bee]

  • Jack Hanna, the beloved zookeeper who brought wildlife into Americans’ living rooms with his live animal demonstrations on television, has dementia and will retire from public life, his family said on Wednesday. [Columbus Dispatch]

  • The actor Zach Avery was arrested on Tuesday on wire fraud charges, accused of defrauding investors of at least $227 million and fabricating his company’s business relationship with HBO and Netflix. [New York Times]

  • Google’s new “Downtown West” project is one of the largest in the history of Silicon Valley. The plan, which could be approved next month, has 7.3 million square feet of office space, along with up to 4,000 homes, and $200 million in community benefits. [San Francisco Chronicle]

  • When digital memories that were meant to be nostalgic suddenly turn painful, how do we extricate ourselves from the so-called matrix? [Wired]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Priya Arora was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, and graduated from U.C. Irvine. They are currently a social media editor on the Audience team, and also write about South Asian pop culture for The Times.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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