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CALIFORNIA After relentless winter, Golden State is blooming 



By Jill Cowan

The New York Times

Even for a state where a certain amount of weather-related chaos is normal, this winter in California felt relentless. There were catastrophic floods, mudslides, walls of snow, destructive waves, downed trees and, now, potholes left behind by the storms.

So it is a genuine pleasure to report this week on a colorful reprieve from all this gloom: Wildflowers are bursting into view, painting the landscape with vibrant shades of orange, yellow and purple. The “super bloom” is the result of sustained precipitation across much of the state; every shower made it possible for a wider array of wildflowers, which each thrive in subtly different conditions, to germinate and bloom.

The lush displays unfurling across California’s public lands have received most of the attention. Throngs of flower-seekers have lined up to visit sites such as the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Carrizo Plain National Monument, the largest intact grassland in the Central Valley, has been busy with hikers for weeks as early blooms of goldfields and purple phacelia have emerged and begun to fade, according to Heather Schneider, a rare plant biologist with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden who has been visiting the area periodically in recent weeks for research.

“It’s still beautiful, and the busiest I’ve ever seen it,” she said in an email this week. “But the tide is starting to turn now.”

Other types of plants — bulbs and perennial herbs such as blue dicks, onions and larkspur — are “starting to ramp up” now, she said.

The flowers this spring may have been an unexpected treat for Californians in cities or suburbs, who have been spotting patches of vibrant color along sidewalks and freeways and in urban parks, but the super blooms have produced conflicted feelings for many native-plant enthusiasts.

In 2019, the last time a rainy winter produced super blooms in Southern California, crowds descended on a few sites that went viral on social media, including one by the side of Interstate 15 in Lake Elsinore, causing chaos and the trampling of delicate flowers.

Visitors flopped down onto the carpets of blossoms for their selfies, or carved their own trails to stake out the best angles. So this year, officials closed off the area in Lake Elsinore and warned would-be visitors to stay away, meaning that fewer people could experience the flame-orange poppies there.

“We need to be very concerned about what we’ve lost and what we’re going to continue to lose to, basically, the classic threat of development, combined with how our nonnative plant species are responding to climate change and displacing our native wildflowers,” said Nick Jensen, the conservation program director for the California Native Plant Society.

Californians who haven’t been able to get to prime blooms in wild areas are still enchanted by whatever they see around town.

Aliza Schloesser, 27, stumbled across an impressive showing of neon gold at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park near her home in Los Angeles. It was a kind of mustard plant, which she said she knew was “technically considered a weed, but it was beautiful.”


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