Posted by: Sandy Steinman | April 23, 2012

Santa Monica Mountains Wildflower Report

Santa Monica Mountains Research Learning Center just published the following wildflower updates today. Note that  the hikes and updates are from older dates and conditions may have changed.

There has been little to report as the lack of rain in the early spring has kept things pretty barren this year. The dust has been knocked down by the recent rains but things are still unusually dry. One indication is how little water there is in many of our seasonal creeks. These creeks are largely spring fed and the lack of water is a result of very low water tables. That said, You can find flowers if you go looking for them. Many things that you would normally find blooming at this time of year can indeed be found, but expect much lower quantities, more restricted distribution, and in some cases dwarfed or otherwise stunted versions. Recent rains have greened things up nicely but we still are not seeing even an average year’s worth of flowers. Some plants have bounced back well after the rains. For example, a month ago the black sage was dropping its leaves but now they are looking lush and flowering nicely. However that response to the rain seems more the exception than the rule. Some areas are clearly doing better than others.

Vista Satwiwa Loop to Waterfall Date: 04/14

The flowers continue to be sparse, some are late with the cool April temps, but recent rains and warm weather are improving the season—with the waterfall running nicely, and a good flowing creek at the first crossing. Highlights among the 25 native species included wishbone bush, collarless California poppies, Parry’s phacelia, Mariposa lilies, fiesta flowers, hummingbird sage, and golden yarrow. While we didn’t see the usual rattlesnakes—always active in warm weather—we did hear some reports, and came across a 4-foot gopher snake stretched across the trail (plus an amorous pair of California tree frogs at the waterfall itself—ribbit). The “green meadows” (of weeds) along the way are still pretty but starting to turn, and willow seeds are flying around like snowflakes. It’s definitely time to soak up some classic spring weather, wildflowers, and waterfalls!

 Malibu Creek State Park Backbone Trail Date: 04/14

Today’s hike was the sixth leg of the 2012 National Park Service Backbone Trail Hike. We are hiking west to east covering two segments per month. This hike we reversed our direction and started up near Saddle Peak and ended up on Malibu Canyon Road. Today we hiked as a late winter rain had just moved east. Conditions were muddy in places, but our pallets were moistened by the 66 native plants we counted in bloom. Several species of ceanothus were in bloom along with lupines, clovers, oaks, sages, along with a variety other perennials. Though low quantities within species, there were a large number of shy annuals: snap dragon, wall flower, blue larkspur, gilia, Chinese houses, clarkia, blue eyed grass, fiesta, to name a few.

 Lower Zuma Canyon Date: 04/13

Lot’s of opportunistic non-native annual plants are blooming wherever possible on the Zuma Loop Trail. Since non-natives have to grow fast and bloom profusely, they have been taking advantage of the hot/cold strange weather we have been having. Those include the usual suspects: milk thistle, mustard, yellow clover, etc. If you can ignore those non-natives there are a fair amount of things to see on the first half (the canyon bottom part) of the Zuma loop trail. The California walnuts are full of catkins. Both California everlasting and two-tone everlasting can be seen. Look at, but don’t touch, the poison oak flowers (very small, very pale white flowers) which are blooming profusely. For more serious botanists, you can see a large milkwort plant in early bloom at the first trail intersection. The red-purple flowers are small, but quite noticeable. Milkwort is the only member of it’s species that occurs in the Santa Monica Mountains. Snowberry (pale pink flowers) and hedge nettle (more intense pink flowers) are blooming as you descend closer to a moist, but dry streambed. Many black sage plants are blooming, as well as fuchsia flowered gooseberry, and both bush and canyon sunflower. The trail had several patches where it was quite muddy, but it was easy to avoid the mud. We had to turn back at the last stream crossing, as the water was too deep to cross. I would give this trail * * * for nice blooms, with promise of more things to come.

Zuma/Trancas Canyons Backbone Trail Date: 04/12

One an overcast day between rainstorms, there was much blooming and much to see. Immediately off the Newton Canyon trailhead, a magnificent hummingbird sage bloom fourteen inches tall. Along the stream by the waterfall are spreads of periwinkles, and their blues harmonize with the dark forest growth. Wood mint is blooming now, the entire mint family is well represented. Other unusual finds in the woodland include coffee fern, a lot of caterpillar phacelia, horehound, fiesta flower, common eucrypta, canyon sunflower and miner’s lettuce as well as wishbone bush, cliff aster, purple nightshade, California everlasting, bush monkey flower and canyon sunflower. Higher up there is slender sunflower, wooly blue curls, blue-eyed grass, black sage. Sprays of blue-eyed grass, falcons vocalizing and fog-shrouded ridgelines await you in Upper Zuma canyon. Ceanothus and elderberry are blooming.

Circle X ranch Mishe Mokwa Loop Date: 04/08

I’ve been hoping the recent rains would bring back some flowers and certainly it has prevented a complete collapse of the flowering season but there’s still not too much to see. As I’ve noted elsewhere, if you have sharp eyes and look diligently you can usually find a good fraction of the species you would see in a better year. We saw about 50 species in bloom which is perhaps a bit better than half of what this trail might yield in a good year. The other thing to note is that the quantities are way, way less than usual. Consequently, unless you are watching carefully you probably won’t count anywhere near 50 different flowers on this trail right now. Flowering highlights included deerweed, black sage, California buckwheat, blue dicks, golden yarrow, chamise, Catalina mariposa lily, woolly blue curls, at least a few different popcorn flowers, a couple of the small lotuses, chia, winter cress, purple nightshade, silver puffs, virgin’s bower, globe gilia, blue larkspur, several members of the celery with their tiny green flowers, coast gold fields, a couple of different phacelias, yellow pincushion, microseris, owl’s clover, Chinese houses, a very late chaparral current, fiesta flower, three different ceanothus, prickly phlox, bush monkey flower, morning glory, Eastwood manzanita, and silver lotus.

Point Mugu State Park La Jolla Canyon Trail Date: 04/02

Every week there is a new surprise here. Catalina mariposa lilies are blooming by the hundreds, mostly on south-facing slopes in grassland. Great stalks of star lilies are hiding under sagebrush. In La Jolla Canyon, scarlet pimpernel can be discovered in shade along the trail; it is an attractive salmon color. Purple sage is also blooming. Around the pond numerous blooms are seen, including vervain, golden yarrow and blue-eyed grass. There were phainopepla singing in the oaks in La Jolla Valley, far from their regular habitat; their call is one query-like note repeated for an hour. All the flowers from last month are still blooming. I noticed with anticipation many buds are ready to burst open. 

Read all the Santa Monica Mountains Research Learning Center reports at:


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