It finally happened: Our dry county actually got some rain this year. Great news for parched water tables, of course. And even better for local wildflower populations.
Wildflower enthusiasts know that when it’s good here, it’s great. “California is a biodiversity hotspot,” says biologist David Brown, a volunteer with the California Native Plant Society and naturalist for the Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District. “We have more endemic species and varieties of plants than anywhere on the continent. And Ventura County is special within California because there are so many different environments: coastal, semi-desert, grassland, forest. We have thousands of unique species.” Many of which will put on a colorful show for hikers this spring and summer. Ventana Monthly spoke with wildflower enthusiasts across the county to find some of the best places to take in the local “super bloom.”
Camarillo Grove Park
This park at the base of the Conejo Grade boasts a nature center, 2 miles of recently opened trails (more will open in June) and a series of interpretive gardens — making it a prime spot for fun in the sun with fabulous flowers, too. Giant coreopsis, with its big, yellow, sunflower-like blossoms are particularly impressive here, but you’ll also find Indian paintbrush, orange bush monkey flowers, California fuschia and a variety of cacti and succulents. “I can’t say enough about how beautiful it is out here right now,” says Amy Stewart, recreation services manager for the Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District. Carol Haverty, a garden guide, is also excited about the resurgent plants that might appear in areas affected by the Camarillo Springs Fire. “There’s stuff coming up that we haven’t seen for 10 or 20 years,” she says. “It’s the kind of thing that gives you hope. How powerful nature is, how it extends itself.”
Ojai Valley Land Conservancy Preserves
Every spring, the open spaces preserved by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy come alive with the bright orange of California poppies, pretty purple blue dicks and lupine, scarlet buglers and sunny yellow buttercups and goldfields. But this year has been particularly prolific.
“This is the first time we have seen blooms like this on the Valley View Preserve since we acquired it and built the new trails in 2013,” says Tania Parker, OVLC’s director of advancement. Meadows have been particularly rich as well. “Because of the restoration work we have done on the Ojai Meadows Preserve, wildflowers are abundant every year.” Species include tidy-tips, baby blue eyes, owl’s clover and Clarkia. Keep an eye out for red maids and fiddleneck flowers later in the season. Parker also recommends the Ventura River Preserve: “Fields of owl’s clover in April and May, and a huge variety of flowers as you hike through the different ecosystems of Rice and Wills Canyons.”
Chumash and Mount McCoy Trails
Better-known for its dramatic sandstone rock formations, the Chumash Trail in springtime becomes a paradise for fans of the mariposa lily, with white Catalina and butterfly, pink Plummer’s and yellow varieties all presenting. “Over a month and a half, you’ll be entertained by all four lilies,” notes Michael Kuhn, executive chair of the Rancho Simi Trail Blazers, a volunteer organization that develops and maintains hiking trails in the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District. In May and June, look for the particularly impressive yellow and red Humboldt lilies. Kuhn also likes the Mount McCoy Trail, which gives a lot of bang for its buck: Over its 1.3-mile length, sharp eyes should be able to spot blue skullcaps, field mustard, chocolate lilies, coast goldfields and, if you’re particularly lucky, the white flowering fritillary. “The best area is up on top of the hill, in the Mount McCoy highlands,” Kuhn adds.
Conejo Canyons Trail System
Part of the Conejo Open Space Conservancy, the Conejo Canyons promise miles of wildflower viewing. “Blue dicks are everywhere on the Western Plateau,” says Nick Ferrari, a ranger with the conservancy. “But you’re going to see quite a few other flowers, too.” Goldfield, morning glories, poppies, wishbone, owl’s clover, lupine, shooting stars and peonies all emerge throughout the trail system. “Elliott Peak is where we’ve seen the most wildflowers,” Ferrari notes, but cautions that hikers should watch out for ticks.
Arroyo Verde Park
and the Ventura Botanical Gardens
There’s no need to leave the city limits to find beautiful blossoms in Ventura. On the trails surrounding Arroyo Verde Park, at the intersection of Foothill and Day Roads, you’ll see something new at every turn: corridors of yellow flowering mustard, hillsides covered in blue phacelia, clusters of bright purple lupine or creamy-white morning glories, even a patch of California poppies so dense and bright you can see it across the park. At the picturesque Ventura Botanical Gardens just behind City Hall downtown, a winding path leads through Chilean, South African and California native gardens with a variety of cacti, succulents and native plants in every color. Keep an eye out for the California bluebell, or Phacelia campanularia, with its breathtaking, deep-blue petals.
AN EVER-CHANGING COMMUNITY
Wildflowers don’t bloom all at once, or last all season, but there should be plenty of florescence from April through June. “The good thing about living in Ventura County is that it goes from sea level to 7,000 feet,” says Lanny Kaufer, who runs regular herb walks and nature hikes (www.HerbWalks.com) throughout Southern California. “Plant communities at higher elevation will bloom later in the season than those lower down.” Kuhn agrees, adding, “Things can change radically from one week to the next. That’s one of the great joys of hiking.”