John Steinbeck wrote that the wildflowers of a Northern California spring were so unbelievable that they were “Almost sinful looking.” That makes sense – especially to a local – considering that much of the rest of the year, except for a few weeks in late April or early May, the landscape is an austere brownish-gold. So when everything comes into full bloom all at once, it can feel strange and obscene – almost embarrassing.
But perhaps what is most unbelievable about those few weeks in mid-spring, is the sheer variety and volume of wildflowers that erupt. Hundreds of native grasses, trees, bushes, and flowers go into full bloom. They are the indicators of the beginning of warmth; they are the tokens of spring.
Above: Calochortus amabilis, Diogenes Lantern. Endemic to the mountains and hills of the Northern Bay Area.
Mostly the flowers are small and fragile, which is why they don’t last. But they are hardy enough to sprout in bad soil, even straight out the rocks.
Above: Dudleya cymosa, Rock Lettuce
Above: Eschscholzia californica, California Poppy. Steinbeck also wrote about these, describing them as “Of a burning color – not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.”
Above: Lewisia rediviva, Bitterroot. Common across much of the western United States and British Columbia, the Bitterroot is a perennial bulb that grows and flowers only briefly during the Spring. It is also the state flower of Montana.
Above: We call these Chamise Lilies, though they seem to have several other common nicknames including Adam & Eve, Dogtooth Lily, and Fawn Lily. They belong to the Erythronium genus of lilies.
But it isn’t just the flowers that come out in spring. We found pools of water filled with hundreds of tiny swimming tadpoles, and everywhere in the flowers there were wild honeybees, spiders, and ants. We also found this very large grasshopper sitting in the weeds.
And up the side of a rocky hill I found this small snake skin, fresh enough that you could still see the eyes. After a long winter hibernating I’m sure he was happy to get into the sun and shed his winter skin.
I think we were all happy to leave winter behind us.