California Wildflowers

perennial monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

perennial monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Veteran plant watchers have proclaimed this year’s showing of California wildflowers the most spectacular they have ever seen. The message is to get out there now and take a look, because you may never see such a glorious exhibition of wildflowers again, at least not in this lifetime.
From now through the end of March is supposed to be the climactic phase of this year’s wildflower bloom. No matter where you go, as long as it is off the beaten track, in the hills and canyons that crisscross and encircle Los Angeles, or in the wilderness beyond, you are bound to catch a glimpse, if not more, of this year’s phenomenal floral display. Here are some of the flowers – all of which can be grown in your own garden – that you will see:
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). This is the flower that put California flora on the international horticultural map. It took Theodore Payne, a transplanted Englishman who became a Los Angeles horticultural luminary early in the last century, to popularize the California poppy along with many other native plants. Today, you are just as likely to see California poppies growing in a garden in Liverpool or London as you are to see them in Lakeview Terrace or La Canada.
California poppies are almost always orange, but they occasionally show up in yellow, buff or burgundy. Their foliage is special, too, with a fine, lacy texture and unusual blue-green color. What you may not know about California poppies is that they have the capacity to rebloom if their spent flowers are removed in a timely manner.
California peony (Paeonia californica). A frequently heard complaint from Easterners and Midwesterners who come here to live is that they are unable to grow peonies, most of which require considerably more cold than Southern California has to offer. However, we do have a peony whose attractive lobed foliage and scarlet blooms warrant more attention among lovers of this genus.
The California version is a herbaceous perennial that grows to only about 1 foot, is not picky about soil type, can handle sun or part shade and resents irrigation to the extent that it will rot when watered during the summer.
Chocolate lily (Fritillaria biflora) and leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum) will enhance any bulb garden, and their flowers make fine specimens for vase arrangements. The first bears nodding, creamy bronze flowers; the second has hanging orange lampshades spattered with black dots. Both lilies are tolerant of a variety of soils and exposures and, in the manner of many California natives, loathe summer irrigation.
Sky lupine (Lupinus nanus). This is the annual with thick, lavender blue flower spikes that you see growing along freeway entrance and exit ramps throughout the Valley. It is often planted in combination with California poppies. Its seeds germinate without difficulty and, given a few years’ time, will take over or naturalize very large stretches of bare ground.
Wild heliotrope (Phacelia distans). If you see a low-growing, purple-flowered plant in a vacant lot or in the sand by the beach, it might well be a wild heliotrope.
Sticky Monkey flower (Mimulus auranticus). These perennials appear as prolifically as certain annuals in all tones of yellow and orange. You see them growing along the freeway as you make your way north from Granada Hills into the Santa Clarita Valley. This is a staple of our local native flower gardens. Blooms will remind you of snapdragons, to which they are related.
Blue dicks (Dichelostemma pulchellum). This plant grows from a corm, a bulblike structure more commonly associated with gladiolus. Its silky flowers are actually more violet than blue, and it reseeds and multiplies vegetatively, so you will see more of it from year to year.
Prickly phlox (Leptodactylon californicum). This is a delicate pink flower that can be seen growing out of rocky byway embankments from Bouquet Canyon to Malibu Canyon.

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