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SEARCHING FOR SPRING, PART 6: Lupine, Poppies & More, oh my!

“EARTH LAUGHS IN FLOWERS.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two of my favorite wildflowers are Lupine and California Poppies.  They are both so bold and bright that when they make an appearance, you have to notice them.  A great place to watch for their first appearance each spring is driving I-5 over the Grapevine.  When patches of orange paint the hills, it is time to start exploring the area with more diligence.

A great spot to find a closer view of wildflowers is on the Gorman Post Road, near the top of the Grapevine.  This year was no different, but the poppies were not as evident as usual.  The lupines, however, were flanking the road along with some other colorful blooms.

Fortunately, the California Poppies were taking over the fields en route to the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve State Park.  According to the staff, the east side of the park was where poppies were most likely to be found on its actual grounds. When a friend and I were there on a weekend in early April—as predicted by the staff—it was almost impossible to get into the parking lot and past the entry kiosk.  We chose not to wait at least an hour to be able to look for a parking space, especially since we had already been sitting for close to an hour on the adjacent roads.  I’m really not crazy about crowds.

On a Weekday–Weekends The Cars Would Be Ten Times Worse

These Distant Hills Are Officially Part of the Preserve

The poppies, however, do not simply grow in the Poppy Preserve.  Their audacious color erupts along the roads and throughout the fields in the whole area surrounding the park.  And the poppies are joined by some other blooms as well.

Several Stands of These Pink Trees Were Blooming Along Lancaster Road

If you have not wandered by Gorman and then on Lancaster Road toward the Poppy Preserve, the time to get out there is now.  You will be rewarded with seeing some of the boldest and brightest wildflowers around!

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”    Iris Murdoch

“For myself I hold no preference among flowers, so long as they are wild, free and spontaneous.”   Edward Abbey

“I must have flowers, always and always.”   Claude Monet

“How does the Meadow-flower its bloom unfold?  Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and, in that freedom, bold.”  William Wordsworth

“Spring is God’s way of saying, ‘One more time!’”   Robert Orben

“It is Spring again.  The earth is like a child that knows a poem by heart.”   Rainer Maria

TOPIC P: California Poppies

I missed seeing them this year.  It is not that I did not go looking for them.  I typically see them near Gorman as I travel south to Los Angeles along I-5.  But this year, they were not really there to be enjoyed, except in small isolated blooms deep in the fields.  I even checked the state natural reserve in Lancaster.  Not many there this year either.

one poppyI am talking about California Poppies.  This delightful little flower is the state flower, and it usually is evident along the highways in the spring of each year.  Each bloom is not very big, maybe 1-2 inches in diameter with several sprouting together out of one plant. They are a vibrant yellow gold color that screams for attention in the hills.  They typically share the hillsides with cream puffs, lupine, and other wildflowers.poppy

poppies and cream cups

poppies and lupine_0001

poppy and fddle stick

poppies medium

lupine too

dadThis year, however, the January temperatures were too low and the annual rainfall was too minimal to produce a great batch of California Poppies.  Typically, the highways are littered with them.  And hills and hills of them are evident at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR in Lancaster, off Highway 138.  I have been there many times to view these natural wonders.  The Reserve offers 8 miles of trails through the hills amongst the flowers.  My dad and I visited there several times, just to enjoy the flowers and take some pictures.

When they are in bloom, they are magnificent:

Vista 1

vista 2

“Simply to see a distant horizon through a clear air—the fine outline of a distant hill or a blue mountain top through some new vista—this is wealth enough for one afternoon.”  Thoreau

vista 3

vista 4

I am always amazed and delighted when the flowers come back every February to May even as I am puzzled about how their appearance can be so varied each year.  I have always known it is tied to the rains—or lack there of.  One year, the rains came, but the grasses sprung up earlier and thicker than usual and choked out the flowers.  Lots of things can happen to impact the blooms.  Recently I read “Called Out” an essay by Barbara Kingsolver and her husband Stephen Hopp in her book Small Wonder—and it addressed this exact phenomenon.  In that essay, they were talking about the wondrous displays of wildflowers in the Arizona desert and explaining how they keep blooming year after year, but the same explanation applies to California Poppies as well.

fence

poppies and lupinemedium hills 2

Simply put, Kingsolver said, “God planted them.” She then offered a more scientific explanation. Apparently the plants ensure their own survival through the variety inherent in their seeds.  Some seeds bloom faster or longer than others, or need more water than others, or are content to wait for years before blooming than others; the seeds are not all the same! Some years might be impressive, others not so much, but the next year is always a possibility. More officially, “Desert ephemerals. . . [stash] away seasons of success by varying, among and within species, their genetic schedules for germination, flowering, and seed-set.”  Each year, more blooms are likely because each species has a “blueprint for perseverance” that guarantees that wildlflowers—like the California Poppy—“will go on mystifying us, answering to a clock that ticks so slowly we won’t live long enough to hear it.”

I appreciate knowing there is a scientific explanation to support my hope that the poppies will keep blooming year after year. And I applaud the wonder of nature every year when they do bloom.  I can only imagine how magnificent the sight was for John Muir over 100 years ago, when it was not hills and hills of gold, but miles and miles of gold.

Here is how Muir described it:

“One shining morning a landscape was revealed that after all my wanderings still appears the most beautiful I have ever beheld.  At my feet lay the Great Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flowerbed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant it seemed not clothed in light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.”

medium field 1

medium field 2

Wouldn’t that be wondrous to view?  Still, I will be content to see whatever flower show blooms each year.  I am hopeful 2014 will be a good year once again.  What are your favorite wildflowers?

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