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Will rains bring another Southern California superbloom? Wildflower forecast is murky

With Southern California’s hills now carpeted in green, researchers and Instagrammers alike can’t help but wonder: Are we also gearing up for another “superbloom” wildflower season?

While there’s no official definition for what constitutes a superbloom, the floral eruptions that hit the region in 2017, 2019 and 2023 certainly earned the label. Hillsides were painted gold and purple, with a “poppy apocalypse” even leading officials to shut down trails and exits from the 15 freeway in Lake Elsinore five years ago.

This year, California State Parks officials are predicting “better-than-average” to “good” wildflower blooms as we head into spring.

Rain totals are about average for this time of year. But Joan Dudney, a professor at UC Santa Barbara who studies how California ecology is changing, said that’s not all we need to trigger a superbloom. When rain fell, what temperatures have been like and the previous year’s rain total all play a role.

“It’s hard to say exactly what we will see,” Dudney said. “But we have seen a fair bit of rainfall, especially in Southern California. So I do expect that we’ll see some really beautiful blooms in some places.”

As wildflowers start to emerge, here are tips from experts on what to expect, where to visit and how to leave no trace along the way, so you can help pave the way for more painted hillsides in springs to come.

What this spring might bring

There simply isn’t enough data to make solid predictions about when and where dense wildflower blooms will occur, Dudley said. That means it’s also tough to know whether such blooms are happening more frequently now, or if it only seems that way because they’re getting more attention through social media and outlets like yours truly.

What we do know, per Dudney, is this: Conditions that are becoming more common due to climate change — wild swings from year-to-year between intense drought and record-setting rain — are, at least for now, paving the way for more frequent and concentrated wildflower seasons.



Ideal conditions to create a superbloom on coastal and inland hillsides are a period of drought followed by a wet rainy season that starts in October or November. The dry year means less seed production for invasive grasses, Dudney said, which tend to grow fast and choke out many native wildflowers. And heavy rains that come in fall or early winter give native flowers a head start so they’ll be ready to compete with whatever grasses do come in early spring.

Last winter brought record rains to Southern California, while this winter’s storms came later in the season. That gives invasive grasses an advantage this year, which Dudney said “might dampen some of the wildflower blooms in some areas.”

But that doesn’t apply to the tiny yellow wildflowers that can grow taller than people and blanket spots like Chino Hills. Since those flowers are actually invasive mustard, Dudney said, they behave more like grasses and should easily flourish this spring.

Some of Southern California’s other popular native flowers, including poppies and hillside daisies, also tend to be pretty competitive against invasive grasses, she said. So she expects we’ll still see some great blooms in some areas, though it might be a bit more patchy than some other recent superblooms.

This year’s bloom potential will depend, in part, on what happens with the weather over the next few weeks, said Jorge Moreno, spokesman for California State Parks. If temperatures stay mild, he said we could end up with an even better bloom in places like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve than we saw last year.

Where to chase blooms

Wildflowers are already starting to open in lower elevation desert climates, which are warmer and don’t have the same issues as coastal areas have with invasive grasses. The wave should move north and into higher elevations over the next two months.

Before heading out in search of wildflowers, Moreno recommends checking out the updates on his department’s Wildflower Bloom page or social media accounts for individual sites. Callista Turner, an area interpreter with the parks department, said she also likes to check the app iNaturalist, where people log flower sightings, to look for what’s blooming where at any given time.

Here are established parks that are expected to see solid wildflowers this spring. Note that most charge a fee or require a pass to visit.

  • Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Wildflowers are opening now at this park in southeast San Diego County, according to state park officials. Drive to the heart of Borrego Springs along Henderson Canyon Road, to the lower sandy dune portions of Coyote Canyon and to the southern portion of the park along the county highway S-2. Areas near June Wash and northeast, toward Fish Creek and Arroyo Tapiado, also are seeing early bloomers like primrose, phacelia and wooly sunflower.
  • Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve: Sporadic poppies are opening at this high desert park in north Los Angeles County. From mid-March to May, more poppies, fiddleneck and red stem filaree are expected to sprout. Check live updates through the PoppyCam.
  • Chino Hills State Park: This park is expected to have good wildflower blooms starting mid-March to May. You can access the site off the 71 freeway or from Carbon Canyon Road, then hike or bike along miles of hilly trails in search of blooms.
  • Diamond Valley Lake: While blooms haven’t started at this Hemet site yet, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California just opened its seasonal 1.3-mile Wildflower Trail on Wednesdays through Sundays.
  • Joshua Tree National Park: Some sporadic blossoms are already opening at this national park, including Arizona Lupine and Desert Gold. More are expected in coming weeks, though experts note the park hasn’t received as much rain as it did during its last major superbloom in 2019.
  • Death Valley National Park: This park, which is a four-hour drive northeast, saw so much rain this winter that people have been kayaking on the salt flats. While there have already been spotty wildflower sightings, Dudney expects conditions soon will translate to solid blooms.
  • Red Rock Canyon State Park: Starting in a few weeks, this park a couple hours north of Los Angeles is expected to see blooms of Mojave aster, monkey flowers, yellow primrose and more.
  • Carrizo Plain National Monument: These grasslands a few hours north of Los Angeles, in the Central Valley, could become blanketed in wildflowers in coming weeks. Dudney said natives here are well adapted to compete with invasive grasses, so she expects a solid season despite last year’s wet winter.

As for Lake Elsinore, officials have yet to make any announcements about plans for seasonal access to trails along the 15. City spokesperson Jovanny Rivera Huerta said they’ll be meeting this week with state, county and regional partners “to discuss a plan of action in case of a potential bloom.”

How to see wildflowers responsibly

To avoid another “poppy apocalypse,” experts largely recommend sticking to established parks such as the ones listed above to view wildflowers. If you can, Turner suggested visiting on weekdays to cut down on crowds.

Once you’re there, stay on established trails, since trampling can kill flowers and prevent them from coming back next year. That includes spots where flowers have already been flattened, since Dudney said you can do further damage by copying that behavior.

“The wildflowers are very fragile,” Dudney said. “So it’s so important to tread lightly in these beautiful places.”

If you do venture out into more remote areas in search of blooms, Dudney recommends not tagging the exact location on social media, since these spots likely aren’t set up to accommodate heavy visitors.

“Take pictures, not flowers,” is one of Moreno’s favorite rules. Visitors are not allowed to pick blossoms in state and federal parks. And anywhere you pick flowers, Dudney said you’re taking away seeds for future blooms.

To get more out of your visit, Dudney recommends using an app like Seek to identify and learn a bit about the flowers you’re seeing. You can also volunteer with an organization that manages the land where blooms take place.

Source: Orange County Register

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