Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Researchers Anticipate Colorful Super Bloom

March 14, 2019

Flannery Hill

A particularly wet winter has set off a brilliant super bloom of orange poppies across parts of Southern California, and brings a promising possibility of another superbloom this spring.

With the exception of the 2017 superbloom, the region has experienced several years of drought, making it difficult for native wildflowers to put on a good show. Ample rains this winter, combined with recent burns (fire stimulates germination in some species), make conditions favorable for a good bloom.

Researchers at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden expect annuals and perennials alike to respond positively to the increased soil moisture.

“Many of California’s annual plants can exist as seeds in the soil for decades, waiting for the right conditions to germinate,” said Heather Schneider, the garden’s rare-plant biologist. “The combination of wet conditions and recent burns gives us the potential to see things that haven’t been seen for a long time, or even document new occurrences, especially in burn areas,” she said.

According to the Santa Barbara Resource Conservation District, there are about 2,000 kinds of native plants in Santa Barbara County, and about 200 species are considered rare. Rare plants are plants that are uncommon, meaning there are few individuals of a given kind of plant, or there may be a number of individuals locally but only in a small geographic area.

In addition to some spectacular wildflower displays, this season presents plenty of opportunity for enthusiasts to spot ephemeral blooms of rare California native plants on their adventures around the county, including:
Late-flowered mariposa lily (Calochortus fimbriatus); Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae); pale yellow tidytips (Layia heterotricha); Humboldt lily ((Lilium humboldtii ssp. occellatum); and Santa Ynez false lupine (Thermopsis macrophylla).

Spectators also should keep a lookout for fire followers in recently burned areas. These are plants that grow abundantly after a fire but disappear within a few years as the community revegetates and crowds them out.
Some fire followers include golden eardrops (Erhendorferia chrysantha); fire poppy (Papaver californicum); and big flowered phacelia (Phacelia grandiflora).

Those looking to enhance their wildflower experience can join experts at the Botanic Garden on one of a series of field trips to wildflower bloom areas:
» Burton Mesa Field Trip, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, March 16. Cost is $25 suggested donation.
Enjoy seasonal highlights such as two species of Ceanothus found nowhere else, prickly phlox, monkeyflowers, and late-flowering manzanitas. This long rambling walk through an often-ignored local preserve is on very sandy soil and winds through very dry and surprisingly wet spots.
The sand drifts of the Burton Mesa formation are unlike anything around them and support many unusual and unique species.

» Hike Arroyo Hondo, 9 a.m.-noon Wednesday, March 20. Cost is $20 for Botanic Garden members/$30 nonmembers.
Arroyo Hondo Preserve, also called the Jewel of the Gaviota Coast, is not only a place of remarkable beauty, but its canyon walls offer enough change in topography, temperatures, and water availability to showcase a range of plant communities.
From woodlands to chaparral, coastal sage scrub to giant chain fern wetlands, Arroyo Hondo exemplifies the diversity of California native plants.

» Oso Flaco Field Trip, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, March 22. Cost is $25 for garden members/$40 nonmembers.
Experience the wildflowers of Oso Flaco Lake, at the border of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, with botanist Steve Junak. Learn about the area's history while viewing freshwater lakes nestled in the sand dunes just inland from the wild shoreline.
This field trip will emphasize identification of wildflowers, shrubs and trees, and ecology of the area.

» Botany in Your Backyard: Romero Canyon, 9 a.m.-noon Sunday, March 24. Cost is $20 for garden members/$30 nonmembers. Hike through Romero Canyon to learn 15-20 of the riparian and chaparral plants of Santa Barbara. The Garden will hike about a mile up this moderately difficult trail while learning about the ecology and composition of plant communities that are characteristic of the Santa Barbara area.

» Santa Cruz Island Day Trip: The West End, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, March 31. Cost is $140 for garden members/$175 nonmembers. Participants are invited to visit the west end of Santa Cruz Island to see the spectacular wildflower blooms. This year, Santa Cruz Island has received an incredible amount of rainfall, which is sure to lead to an amazing display of flowers. Expect to see goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis), Santa Cruz Island liveforever (Dudlyea nesiotica), succulent lupine (Lupinus succulentus), San Miguel locoweed (Astragalus miguelensis), and checker bloom (Sidalcea malviflora).

To register for any of the field trips, visit or call 805-682-4726, ext. 102. For more about the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, visit

Carrizo Plain