Wildflowers of California

California is blessed with an abundance of colorful wildflowers that grow all across the state — along its coastal bluffs, high in the alpine, in the shade of redwood forests, even blooming en masse in the desert. This page is my attempt to photograph and catalog every species. (I’m doing the same thing with mushrooms).  

Beavertail Cactus

Opuntia basilaris

Most of the time, you won’t notice the beavertail cactus, even though it’s common across California’s high desert. It’s always just sort of there, blending into its surroundings, being pretty meh. But it’s a different story in the spring. Between March and June, the beavertail cactus bloms, unleashing a surreal splash of hot pink. Some cacti will have a dozen or more flowers popping off at once. I’m talking about blossoms so bright, theyll grab your attention as you drive, beckoning you to pull over for a photo. And I promise you won’t be able to resist. A week or so earlier? You never would have known they were there. 

Bird’s Eye Gilia

Gilia tricolor

I believe these are Bird’s Eye Gilia — a favorite of bees and hummingbirds, and a native flower of California. The blue anthers and yellow throat (not visible in this picture) give their identity away.

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

A California poppy, the state flower, blooms along the Lost Coast Trail in Mendocino County’s Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Poppies can be yellow, red, orange, and even pink. They are the wildflower that is most closely associated with superblooms, appearing as blankets of orange in desert valleys and on grassy hillsides in the spring. 


Dentaria californica

Spring wildflowers — milkmaids, I believe — bloom at the base of a redwood in Jackson State Forest on California’s North Coast.

Mountain Pride

Penstemon newberryi

Mountain pride growing in Desolation Wilderness.

Mountain pride is native to the high country of California. This arresting wildflower grows in especially rocky areas, sprouting amongst talus and emerging from crevices between rocky ledges. The flower you see here was photographed in Desolation Wilderness in early July, following a dry winter. The brilliant pink splashes of color are welcome in an alpine environment usually dominated by green, gray, and brown. Because of its ability to thrive in such extreme environments, some people consider Mountain Pride a symbol of spiritual strength and courage.

Tahoe Lupine

Lupinus meionanthus

A sea of Tahoe lupine a mile high into the sky in Desolation Wilderness. This species of lupine can be found the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, from California to Nevada.

Western Trillium

Trillium ovatum

When I lived on the North Coast in magical Mendocino County, blooming western white trilliums were always the first harbinger of spring. I’d often see them in early to mid March. To me, they represent the optimism that comes with the changing of the seasons, when the winter rains cease and sunnier weather patterns take over. The petals start off white, but can turn pinkish-purple. I haven’t seen may of those. I’ll have to start looking a little harder as I’d love to photogrpah one.

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