A Little More Rain Could Bring Another Wildflower 'Super Bloom' to California

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This hillside on the Temblor Range at Carrizo Plain National Monument was covered with tiny, yellow wildflowers in 2017. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

California's wet and rainy winter is getting both wildflower experts and enthusiasts excited about the potential of another "super bloom" this spring.

California’s last super bloom, in the spring of 2017, was spectacular. I can tell you from experience because I was one of the thousands of people who traveled to Carrizo Plain National Monument in the Central Valley to see it. There, I saw the most Instagram-able mountainsides and valleys blanketed with vibrant orange, bright yellow and deep violet wildflowers.

The reason we got that super bloom? Lots and lots of rain — about 150 percent more than normal, according to Richard Minnich, a professor of earth sciences at UC Riverside.

Here's the bad news: the precipitation we've had so far this year is not quite enough, yet.

"Right now we're right at normal or slightly above," Minnich said. "So it's looking promising, and we could really get up there in terms of total rainfall."

A spokeswoman with Carrizo Plain National Monument said it's still too early to tell if a super bloom will occur there this year. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

Super blooms are typically rare ecological events, Minnich said; the last one to occur before 2017 was in 2009. Besides needing boatloads of rain, a massive wildflower bloom also requires years of drought that kill off invasive European grasses and weeds, leaving less competition for California's native flowers.


Golden poppies, purple lupins, popcorn flowers, phacelia and owl's clover are all common annuals that can be found in California during spring. But Minnich said during super blooms, some rarely seen wildflowers, like the desert five-spot in Death Valley National Park, can pop up after not being seen for decades.

"In super blooms you can get flowers, which in some cases, are thought to be extinct," Minnich said.

This desert five-spot bloomed in Death Valley National Park during 2009's super bloom. (Ben Clark/flickr)

Super bloom or not, there are already desert wildflowers sprouting up in the southern part of the state, like at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego.

Bri Fordem with the Anza-Borrego Foundation said the park is having a better than average bloom so far.

"There are definitely flowers blooming," Fordem said. "They are scattered, but there's a beautiful show of flowers and a variety at that."

Fordem said desert lilly, sand verbena, Arizona lupin, ocotillo and dune evening primrose are currently blooming in the park.

And remember, winter's not over in California, which means there could be more rain to fuel a spring super bloom.