From darkness to light. From blackness to a riotous rainbow of color. The resplendent wildflower displays in Sonoma County this spring may be just the remedy for wildfire-weary residents.
In her poem Poppies, the extraordinary poet Mary Oliver gives voice to the redemptive power of wildflowers. Acknowledging that while loss is life’s great lesson, the “rough and spongy gold” of a field of poppies invites us to be happy, to wash ourselves in the river of earthly delights.
I was reminded of this poem on a recent hike in the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, a landscape that had been hard hit by the Nuns Fire last October. A welcoming committee of California buttercups (Ranunculus californicus), with their glossy yellow faces swayed along the edges of the trail, inviting me deeper into the park. The copious white heads of popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys spp.) gave the illusion of snow. Standing downwind of a meadow painted deep purple by early spring sky lupines (Lupinus nanus) I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The sweet smell of grape soda instantly transported me to Sunday picnics in the park as a child, eating white bread sandwiches with peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly. Redemptive, indeed.
This scene is repeated, with delightful variation, throughout the natural areas that burned in October. Annual wildflowers that we are used to seeing in our spring grasslands in Sonoma County are blooming in droves, taking advantage of reduced competition from annual grasses and increased nitrogen from post-fire ash. The fires also “cleaned up” local grasslands by removing the flower-snuffing thatch of dead grass that can build up over time.
Chaparral areas that burned hot in the Nuns fire at Bouverie Preserve and in the Tubbs fire at Shiloh Ranch Regional Park now find themselves awash in cream-colored star lilies (Toxicoscordion fremontii), purple ground iris (Iris macrosiphon), narrow-leafed mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia), Diogenes’ lanterns (Calochortus amabilis) and the diminutive violet blue Danny’s skullcap (Sculletaria tuberosa). These perennial wildflowers are especially well-adapted to fire as their underground bulbs or rhizomes are largely protected from the heat. With adequate food resources stored underground, they are well-positioned to take advantage of reduced competition from shrubs, rushing to greet the sunlight now pouring through the opened up canopy.
Although trails remain closed in the upper chaparral areas of the Bouverie Preserve, hikers can head to Shiloh Ridge State Park, 93 percent of which burned in the fires, for awesome views of flowers in burned chaparral along the North Ridge Trail. Natural Resources Program Coordinator Hattie Brown also urges visitors to take a stroll on the Creekside trail where a series of new bilingual signs highlights the fire effects and the Park District’s land management response. These signs showcase everything from tiny orange eyelash fungus to the value of leaving dead vegetation in place for habitat.
Another group of flowers many are eager to spot in the post-fire landscape are what botantists and fire ecologists call “fire followers.” These are species that actually require fire to reproduce, their seeds waiting patiently in the soil often for decades. According to fire ecologist Sasha Berleman, some of the fire dependent blooms we may see between April and June are the fire poppy (Papaver californicum), whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) golden eardrops (Ehrendorferia chrysantha), and Kellogg’s climbing snapdragon (Antirrhinum kelloggii).
Where to see the Wildflowers
Wildflower or Wildfire Hikes at Sonoma Regional Parks in April 2018
For directions and registration information, go to: parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Play/Calendar
April 8, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park: Explore the park’s spring wildflowers and the rich biodiversity. Search for blooms beneath the majestic redwoods, along Matanzas creek, amidst beautiful oaks and throughout open meadows as we climb the north slope of Sonoma Mountain. Enjoy lunch and breathtaking views from the Bennett Valley Overlook on this 5-mile hike.
April 14, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hikes - Hood Mountain Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on 7-mile hike in Hood Mountain Regional Park.
April 14, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks - Taylor Mountain Regional Park - Petaluma Hill Road Entrance: Enjoy surprising stories and fascinating facts about nature’s blooming treasures as we search along the trail for spring wildflowers and spectacular scenery.
April 14, 2018 from 2:00 – 4:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Creekside Wildflower Walk -Crane Creek Regional Park: Explore edible, medicinal, useful and wondrous wildflowers. Spot remarkable blooms and discover their stories on this fun and informative 3-mile walk with a knowledgeable naturalist.
April 21, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: Serpentine Secrets - Tolay Lake Regional Park: Join Regional Parks and the Sonoma Land Trust to experience spring’s riches at Tolay Lake Regional Park and discover rare, diverse and abundant displays of native wildflowers. Learn about California’s serpentine soils and their important and unique relationship with native wildflower species. Enjoy amazing views of San Pablo Bay and beyond on this 6-mile, semi-strenuous hike through open, rolling grasslands. Bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and a picnic lunch.
April 28, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Wildfire Ecology Hike - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: How are the parks recovering from the Sonoma County wildfires? Join a Regional Parks naturalist on an easy to moderate-level 3-mile hike in Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.
April 29, 2018 from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Spring Wildflower Walks: From Wildfire to Wildflower - Sonoma Valley Regional Park: Explore this unique botanical hotspot, observe splendid spring blooms, and discover the fascinating relationship between wildfire and wildflowers. This park was profoundly affected by the October 2017 Nuns Fire. Expect to see the park respond with an abundant and diverse display of wildflowers this spring — a beautiful reminder and charming celebration of nature’s resilience.
Wildflower and Wildfire Hikes at State Parks in Sonoma County in April 2018
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
For directions and registration information go to: sonomaecologycenter.org/events
April 8, 2018 from 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Join botanist Ann Howald of California Native Plant Society‘s Milo Baker chapter to tour areas of the park that burned in the October wildfires. The walk’s emphasis is on recovery of trees and shrubs that burned, and to look for wildflowers–possibly ones that follow fires and have not been seen for decades.
April 22, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join Botanist, Peter Warner, in this Earth Day Sugarloaf exploration! Fire is a powerful, rejuvenating force in California plant ecology. On this leisurely walk, with some elevation gains and losses, well observe and discuss the various effects of fire and its chemical by-products on the flora (and fauna) across several different habitat types, including grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral.
April 14, 15 and 28, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Join park naturalists and/or Sonoma Ecology Center staff to learn how to interpret fire landscapes at Sugarloaf that burned in the recent wildfires. Come see the land recover. We will be assessing burned trees, learning how to interpret fire-affected landscapes, and watching for special “fire follower” wildflowers. Discussion questions include: Why did this happen? What does it mean? How do we prepare for it happening again?
Jack London State Park
For directions and registration information for Jack London hikes, go to: jacklondonpark.com/jack-london-future-events.html
April 7, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM
Wildflowers on the East Slope Trail: It’s been a three years since the Eliot Loop Trail opened with the help of the Bay Area Ridge Trail and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. Join us as we discover an array of wildflowers that bloom along the trail while enjoying the fantastic views! We will expect to see carpets of California Poppies and Lupines at the top and a variety of wildflowers along the Sonoma Ridge trail. Join Park naturalist John Lynch as we take a moderately paced 12 mile nature hike to explore the wildflowers and anything else we find along the way.
Earth Day Wildflower Walk and Hike
April 21, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM (walk) and April 22, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 1:30 (hike)
This Earth Day weekend revel in the beauty of spring with either a wildflower walk or hike. These outdoor adventures will be led by naturalist John Lynch and focus on the interconnected web of nature at the Park. Saturday discover the wildflowers along the Wolf House trail on an easy short walk or on Sunday, take an intermediate 4 to 8 mile hike, we’ll go where the wildflowers are best, on back country trails to discover a wider variety of wildflowers. With both you can expect to see Canyon Delphinium, Chinese Houses, Golden Fairy Lantern, Lupine, Popcorn Flower, Mules Ears (2 varieties) as well as the birds, reptiles and other plants that make up the eco-system of the Park. Our hikes are slow-paced so allow plenty of time, bring cameras, binoculars, poles, plenty of water, snacks and wear sturdy shoes. Be prepared for uneven ground.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here