Let's Talk About Super Bloom Etiquette

Chino Hills State Park, about 45 minutes from Downtown Los Angeles, is in full bloom this week. (Photo by Joel Dauten) (Joel Dauten)

It's mid-March 2019 and the super bloom is back! And that means the hordes have returned to Southern California's poppy fields. So we updated this 2017 piece laying out proper etiquette if you're among the many making the two-hour drive from L.A. to partake in the natural beauty.

The Southland is in the grips of super bloom fever. The flowers have not only taken over the landscape—turning it into a colorful tableau — but have also captured our imaginations as well. And by "imaginations" we mean Instagram.

While it's uplifting to see so many Angelenos heading out to see the flowers, there's also a downside to all the fanfare. It's the same age-old story: people come in contact with nature, people do things that are not... ecologically cool. There's also the matter of the sheer volume of people. In 2017, trampled flowers led to the closure of a half-mile section of the Wildflower Trail at Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County. "It's upsetting to see the destruction," an environmental specialist with the Metropolitan Water District told KPCC. "Cause you can stand back and you can see the beauty of it without getting so close and trampling everything."

The rules, we always like to think, are self-explanatory. But it's also clear that they fly over the heads of some super bloom lovers. Here, we present some simple tips on how not to be a nature doofus. Keep them in mind as you marvel at that spread of botanical wonders.

When In Doubt, Don't Pick The Flowers

California poppies bloom in a field in the Antelope Valley in April 2016. (Nick Ut/AP)

In a National Park like Death Valley or Joshua Tree, regulations prohibit the picking of wildflowers. The rules, however, may vary. "It depends on the species [of flower] and the area," Joseph Algiers, a restoration ecologist, told LAist. Algiers works with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, a unit of the National Park Service. "There are species in California that are fully-protected, so if it's a fully protected species you can't pick those."

Does this mean you'll have to take a crash course in Botany 101 to learn about the wildflowers you shouldn't be touching? Nope. As Algiers says, the best course of action is to check in with the people who manage the area—ask a docent or a ranger if flower-picking is permissible. And if you don't see any staff around, the best bet is to err on the side of caution. "I would say, when you're in doubt, don't pick," Zach Behrens, a senior communications fellow with the National Park Service, told LAist.

But why is it such a huge deal? What's the problem with taking a small token of beauty with you? There's a number of issues, actually. If a patch of flowers gets too depleted, that area may not get the re-pollination that's required for future flowers to grow in that spot. Basically, that space may become barren. There's also the issue of ushering the flowers into a non-native environment." Taking an invasive species outside of that area—you can bring in a bloom that is invasive to your own space. It can overtake your area," said Jerrica Archibald, communications manager with Tread Lightly, a non-profit that educates the public on outdoor ethics. "In general, trail etiquette says you should leave it where you found it, but feel free to take photos," said Archibald.

Stay On The Trail

As evidenced by the situation at Diamond Valley Lake, some sight-seers have been veering off the official trail, walking into the beds of flowers and trampling them in the process.

The message here is simple: stay on the right path. In practice, however, it can get a little tricky, as unofficial "social trails" may be carved out by a group of past visitors. A path of trampled flowers may seem, to the untrained eye, like an official trail. "It's because there are so many of us," said Algiers. "If it were only one or two people walking into the wildflowers, it might not be a noticeable problem. But the fact that we have such a big population going out, it can become an issue."

These unsanctioned, makeshift pathways are a major issue, as repeated traffic "prevents growth, suppresses germination for native wildflowers, and can serve as corridors for invasive species that travel on the shoes of hikers," said Algiers.

Obviously, you should be following signs that point you towards the right paths. It's also very helpful to have a map of the area in hand; this will help you weed out the unofficial trails from the designated ones. "The right trails are usually pretty clearly marked," said Archibald. "Maps will let you know where to go. And you'll have to take the responsibility in your own hands and to look ahead to see if you're walking on the correct trail."

You Might Have To Educate Others

Of course, you won't be the only one out there. Just because your etiquette game is on point, it doesn't mean that the flowers are safe from the bad manners of others. So what should you do if you see someone picking out a huge bouquet to bring home? Or if someone's laying on a bed of flowers to get that American Beauty shot?

Certainly, if there's a ranger or docent around, they should be alerted to the uncouth attitudes of your fellow sight-seers (hey, we hate being snitches, but still!). If you can't find authorized personnel to speak with, you may have to take it in your own hands and speak with the perpetrators yourself. This, certainly, requires a bit of finesse on your part. Don't just berate someone out in the open—it may work if you're running for political office, but less so if you want to introduce a sense of mindfulness to a fellow human being. "If you feel comfortable, and if you feel there won't be any escalation, have a conversation and say 'This is why you shouldn't do it,'" said Archibald. "A lot of times people just don't know. It's not necessarily that they know they shouldn't be doing it, but are doing it anyway."

Archibald adds that you'd probably want to be, you know, nice about it. "You don't want to be like, 'You're going to get a ticket' or 'There's going to be a huge fine,' because not a lot of people respond well to that," said Archibald. "So the first step is trying to have a conversation."

"There's a nice way to do it. And if you feel safe and comfortable with approaching someone who's doing something they shouldn't be, I think that's great—to stand up for the resources," said Algiers, who added that the first step should be to find a ranger or docent. "You can always turn that into a friendly conversation that results in education and cooperation in the end."

Trash. Yup.

Do we really have to talk about litter? I mean, it's been 25 years since Captain Planet, and we're still educating people about trash and pollution?

Sadly, yes, it's something that still warrants a mention. "We still have that conversation. I don't think I'd have a job if everybody understood or know the long-term effects of [littering]," said Archibald. "People sometimes ask, 'Why do we need a whole organization to remind people to pick up trash?' and it's because it's still happening."

The recommendation is pretty straight-forward: bring back everything that you came with. If you're bringing an assortment of potentially litter-inducing materials (granola bars, bottled drinks, et cetera), bring an extra bag to store the remnants so that you can carry them back with you. This goes for everything, including cigarettes and pet waste.

And If You're Feeling Inspired

One final thing of note: you may feel pretty inspired after your encounter with a super bloom. In fact, you might feel galvanized to go home and do your best Gregor Mendel impersonation.

As Behrens notes, budding plant freaks (pun intended) should step cautiously in the beginning. Be aware of what you should and shouldn't be planting in your own space. "We always encourage people—especially those who live against the mountains and wild spaces—to plant native species," said Behrens.

Because we're not all experts, it can be difficult to determine what is and isn't native to your area. Behrens suggests getting in contact with organizations such as the Theodore Payne Foundation and the Hahamongna Cooperative Nursery to learn about what you should (and shouldn't) be putting into the soil. Plantright.org is also a great online resource.

UPDATE: This story was updated March 12, 2019. It's been two years and people are still re-purposing their best Coachella outfits to pick wildflowers for Instagram, so....we can't have nice things.