Posted by: Sandy Steinman | July 22, 2011

Yosemite National Park Wildflower Report 7/22/11

Yosemite National Park just posted a new wildflower bloom update:
“Although it might be mid-summer on the calendar, some of Yosemite’s higher elevations still offer spring’s bouquet of wildflowers. After a very wet winter and spring, flowers are late-blooming in Yosemite Valley, at 4,000-feet elevation, with spring’s reach up to 12,000 feet and beyond in the park.
Due to the plentiful spring blooms, begin a wildflower search in the Valley. Drive into Yosemite several different ways, each with its own botanical charm.
If traveling from the south on Highway 41 through Fresno and Oakhurst into Wawona, stop to experience Wawona’s trails to view flora—which is at its height now with farewell-to-spring (Clarkia dudleyana). Across from the Wawona Hotel is the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail where you’ll find a variety of blooms. If you can’t want to wait to see waterfalls until you arrive in Yosemite Valley, plan to hike up the Chilnualna Falls Trail—full of lupines—in Wawona. As you continue to drive into the park on Wawona Road, look for white Washington lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) and Mariposa lilies (Calochortus invenustus) along the road near Chinquapin. Look for more than just the color white as Mariposa lilies come in purple like the Grand Mariposa lily (Calochortus superbus) and pink like the Butterfly Mariposa lily (Calochortus venustus). As you continue to drive, you’ll have the option to ascend the Glacier Point Road. If you do make the turn up to Glacier Point, you’ll find montane species in bloom.
If traveling along Highway 140 through Merced to El Portal, watch for the large Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri). These poppies boast wavy white petals that look similar in size and shape to fried eggs—especially with its yellow center. Native to Southern California, this poppy has the largest flowers of any native plant in California. Then, as you continue into Yosemite, consider turning left onto the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120) to head to Foresta Road to access the Big Meadow. This area hosts post-fire blooms where legumes are take advantage of a nitrogen shortage caused by the 2009 Big Meadow Fire. These legumes thrive in areas low in nitrogen. They work with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria, Rhizobia, to gather nitrogen from the atmosphere. When the legume dies, plant-friendly nitrogens are released into the soil that other plants may utilize. Expect Gray’s lupine (Lupinus grayi), with pockets of other legumes throughout, including dwarf lupine (Lupinus nanus), harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), bicolor lupine (Lupines bicolor) plus clovers and lotuses. In addition, Foresta’s hillsides are wild with the brilliant purplish-pink of Fort Miller clarkia (Clarkia williamsonii).
Within Yosemite Valley, find whites, yellows, and pinks sprinkled in the many lush meadows. Cook’s Meadow, located right across from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, is filled with huge white umbels of cow-parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) that tower over the low carpet of meadow plants. Approximately 80 species of Heracleum exist in the world, named after Hercules presumably for the large stature of some species; however,Heracleum lanatum is the only Heracleum species in North America. Look for the yellows of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima) and Bigelow’s sneezeweed (Helenium begelovii). From a distance, these two yellow flowers can look the same, but upon closer inspection, black-eyed Susans have ray florets that grow horizontally from the center while Bigelow’s sneezeweed has pendulous florets that droop from the center. Spotted along the rocky areas of the Four Mile Trail’s lower portions are Draperia systyla in the waterleaf family, Pacific stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), and mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi). Just west of El Cap Meadow is gay penstamon (Penstemon laetus). Throughout the Valley, milkweed’s pink flower clusters opens as an important host plant for caterpillars. All four of Yosemite’s species are present in Yosemite Valley: California milkweed (Asclepias californica), showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia).

As you ascend to higher than Yosemite Valley, you’ll certainly see more Mariposa lilies—in particularly there are patches in forest openings neighboring Crane Flat along Big Oak Flat and Tioga Roads. At the entrance to Big Oak Flat, view one of the park’s 26 lupine species: summer lupine (Lupinus formosus). In the sandy soils, watch for pussypaws (Calyptridium monospermum) with its pink flowers in an umbellate cluster low to the ground. Interestingly, the pussypaws stems rise in the day and lower at night due to changes in water pressure.

At the approximately 5,000-foot Crane Flat, California cone-flowers (Rudbeckia californica) are just beginning to open where they’ll remain fresh through August. The meadows at Crane Flat explode with blooming corn lilies (Veratrum californicum) that look like white flowers atop a corn stalk with broad leaves. Usually only a few stalks bloom here and there because the corn lily can pass many years without flowering, but this must be a favorable year because most of the corn lilies are putting up flowers this year.  Also find camas (Camassia quamash), and Jeffrey shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) flowering in the meadows. Known as one of the early spring wildflowers in the lower elevations, shooting stars are pollinated by bees that “grab” the anthers of the plant and vibrate their wing muscles at a frequency that shakes the pollen loose. In the trees and open areas of Crane Flat, look for Western wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) and Western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale).
As you head a few miles east on Tioga Road, you’ll reach Gin Flat where more Jeffrey shooting star and pretty face (Triteleia ixioides) grow. By the time you get to White Wolf, mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi) is bragging from rocky places along the road—look for masses of bright pink. With opposite or whorled leaves, penstemons have a tubular shape with two lips: the upper lip two-lobed and the lower three-lobed. The red mountain pride, which is scentless, is pollinated by hummingbirds that lack a sense of smell. On rocky outcrops near White Wolf, also look for spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) and several communities of columbine. At the White Wolf junction on the road, find many blooming alpine onions and patches of steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora), which have gone to seed but because of the lingering snow you may catch glimpses of them still in bloom here and there. Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora) graces open areas everywhere there is an opening in the forests. In wet places along road into White Wolf are green rein orchids (Platanthera sparsiflora). The meadows around White Wolf still have marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala). In the forests around White Wolf, pine violets (Viola pinetorum) flash their yellow faces, also common along trails radiating from Tuolumne Meadows. Finally, mountain red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) put up fresh blossoms in rocky places around White Wolf.
If entering Yosemite from the west on Highway 120, plan a side trip to Hetch Hetchy to view the striking pink-and-yellow Harlequin lupine (Lupinus stiversii), and Sierra stonecrop (Sedum obtusatum). It’s a perfect time to take a walk toward Wapama Falls, which is running strong like all of Yosemite’s waterfalls. “


  1. Thanks, Sandy – although I’m hoping that this is the 7/22 report, not the 8/22 report?

    I’m heading to Tuolumne Meadows the end of the first week of August, I hope that the bloom is still going strong up there by that time!


    • Thanks for catching the error in the date. Correction has been made I don’t know that any one can give a report for 8/22 at this point. Corrections always greatly appreciated.


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