Where to Find Wildflowers in Santa Barbara County as ‘Super Bloom’ Hits California

Flowers are starting to cover hillsides in color, helped by recent wildfires and above-average rainfall

March 19, 2019

Brooke Holland

Route 246

Wildflowers are popping up all over Southern California during the super bloom, expected to brighten the landscape through mid-April. Here, they cover the hillside near the Santa Ynez Valley roundabout at Highways 246 and 154. (Mike Eliason photo)

A “super bloom” of wildflowers is hitting Santa Barbara County and Southern California thanks to fire-stimulated germination and above-average rainfall.

Some destinations in the state recently hit hard by wildfires are showing signs of regrowth and life, with golden ear drops, brightly-colored fire poppies and big flowered phacelia and other plants brimming.

These plants show abundantly following a fire, but will disappear within a few years as the community is revegetated and crowds them out, according to Flannery Hill from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

The last dramatic wildflower bloom in California happened in spring 2017 following years of drought that made it difficult for native plant populations to display, Hill said.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden researchers predict spectacular perennials and annuals alike to respond positively to the increased soil moisture this year.

“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 Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s rare plant biologist,in a statement.

“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.”

California poppies

California poppies and other wildflowers are popping up all over Santa Barbara County as the start of a widespread super bloom.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

In addition to spectacular wildflowers, there’s ample opportunity for spectators to spot ephemeral blooms of rare native plants throughout the county, such as the late-flowered mariposa lily, Catalina mariposa lily, pale yellow tidytips, Humboldt lily and Santa Ynez false lupine, Hill said.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden leads a series of field trips to bloom areas through March 31. 

About 2,000 kinds of native plants grow in the county, and about 200 species are considered rare, according to the Santa Barbara Resource Conservation District.

There are plenty of options for viewing the dazzling wildflower bloom while it’s in effect throughout the county, likely through mid-April.

The Theodore Payne Wild Flower Hotline offers free weekly updates during the spring season for the best locations for viewing wildflowers across Southern California.

To help people looking for wildflower-viewing spots, the California State Parks Department created a website with information about wildflower blooms, road conditions, rules and tips at www.parks.ca.gov/WildflowerBloom.

Local spots to find wildflowers

More than 15 types of riparian and chaparral plants have started appearing at Romero Canyon. The popular hiking trails above Summerland and Montecito also showcase phenomenal views of the coast and the surrounding hills.

Late March typically brings out the early blooming specimens such as purple shooting stars, while other species, including chocolate lilies and the scarlet Indian paintbrush, show up later, according to Los Padres National Forest officials. 

Los Padres has more information about wildflowers of Figueroa Mountain and Grass Mountain on its website.

Chocolate lilies

Chocolate lilies show up on Grass Mountain, while a full bloom is likely a few weeks away, according to Los Padres National Forest.  (Los Padres National Forest photo)

The Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve, near Lompoc and Vandenberg Village, has benefitted from the recent rains. The area boasts manzanitas and two rare species of ceanothus flowers — prickly phlox and monkey flowers. 

Arroyo Hondo, a 782-acre property west of Santa Barbara, between Refugio State Beach and Gaviota State Park along Highway 101, is home to thousands of plants and diverse wildlife, including several that are considered endangered or threatened. It is open to the public the first and third full weekends of every month.

Further north at Oso Flaco Lake near Nipomo, wildflowers, shrubs and ecology are visible in the area bordering Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The dunes house more than 50 endemic plant species.

For a larger display, wildflowers are showing up at Carrizo Plain National Monument in eastern San Luis Obispo County. Daisies and California goldfields have reportedly been putting on a show. 

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at [email protected] Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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