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Climate and Environment

Careless Feet Could Doom Our Next Wildflower Super Bloom

A field of flowers and grasses. There are patches of orange, which are California poppies, yellow, which are fiddlenecks. There are mountains in the distance and people appear small in the background walking on a trail.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve has eight miles of trails, including a paved section for wheelchair access.
(Mariana Dale
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There’s no specific definition of what constitutes a wildflower super bloom.

“Super bloom is to some extent in the eye of the beholder,” said Evan Meyer, executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes native plants.

But according to several late April visitors at the Antelope Valley California Poppy reserve, it’s not here.

Why some folks feel disappointed

Gladys Talley, a history teacher at Serrano High School in the High Desert town of Phelan, took the day off work in hopes of seeing the hills about 15 miles west of Lancaster carpeted in orange.

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“It was supposed to be more magnificent,” Talley said. “I'm not kind of impressed, to be honest with you.”

A woman with medium-light skin tone and died turquoise curly hair holds a straw hat and stands in front of hills filled with green grass and patches of yellow and orange flowers.
Gladys Talley said she feels energized after spending time outside.
(Mariana Dale

Volunteers on site with the Poppy Reserve Mojave Desert Interpretive Association say the Reserve saw its peak bloom about a week ago. One hypothesis is that the lankier, yellow fiddleneck flowers crowded out the poppies.

A field filled with orange flowers. In the distance there are cars parked along the road and metal towers holding up power lines.
There are higher concentrations of poppies on private land east of the reserve.
(Mariana Dale

“You get spoiled after you see the huge, huge booms,” said Talley, who visits annually. “It's nature, we have to accept it the way it comes.”

While Talley said she was disappointed, the trip wasn’t wasted. The violins of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons filled her ears as she walked through the Reserve. She planned to find a bench along the reserve’s eight miles of trails.

Yellow blooms in the sunflower family.
What appears to be a wild bloom in the sunflower family grows along the highway near Castaic.
(Mariana Dale
Wildflowers without the crowds
  • If you’re looking to take a flower-field trip Talley recommends Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet. LAist has rounded up more bloom viewing locations here.

“There's plenty of room for everybody to find a little spot to like just recharge, re-energize and just be with yourself,” Talley said. “I'm going to turn off the music and just sit there quietly and just enjoy it without any disturbance.”

Don't doom the bloom

There are two important rules for visiting the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve — or really any field of wildflowers:

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  1. Stay on the trails.
  2. Don’t step on the flowers.

Here’s why:

Every flower is a little miracle of nature. Sarah Kimball, a plant biologist at UC Irvine’s Center for Environmental Biology, told LAist earlier this month that the seeds of desert plants wait for specific cues to germinate, including rain and temperature. Not all flowers come up every year.

The silky, orange-petaled California poppy is what’s called an “annual.” Each seed has one season a year to sprout and flower.

When you step on one before the slender green seed pods have a chance to grow and burst, it dooms a whole generation of new flowers.

“You're basically making the next super bloom that much less likely to happen if you step on them,” said Meyer, with the Theodore Payne Foundation.

Areas devoid of native plants are also susceptible to invasive grasses.

A California poppy plant. The orange petals have fallen off and there is a slender green pod emerging from the plant's stem.
Once the California poppy petals drop, the plant grows a slender green pod that fills with tiny brown and black seeds.
(Mariana Dale
LAist )

“An area that might be this year a carpet of poppies, for instance,” Meyer said, “if enough people step on it, you'll come back during the next wet winter and it'll just be a field of grass.”

How to be respectful

Best practices
  • Here's guidance from the California Botanic Garden on how to responsibly view the state's spectacular flower blooms:

    • Stay on designated trails: real trails — not those newly blazed by the person before you.
    • Take photos only; leave wildflowers where they are.
    • Plant your own super bloom by sowing seeds from reputable nurseries such as the Grow Native Nursery at CalBG or Theodore Payne Foundation.
    • Volunteer with organizations to help maintain native ecosystems.
    • Avoid visiting the most vulnerable parks with high visitation (i.e., those that you may be hearing about on the news or social media). Instead, spread out to other areas. There is a lot to see in California!
    • Share these guidelines with others: your friends, family, people you see violating them.

LAist producer Megan Botel contributed to this story.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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