Picking the most beautiful anything in the west is a challenge, but we have noticed that year after year, there are a few wildflowers that catch our eye most. We thought we’d compile them in case, like us, you love a good species-specific pilgrimage.
We considered not only individual beauty, but also the cumulative beauty of major blooms, those stretches of color that make our western wildscapes like no other. They’re best in person, so pack up and head out.
Mountain Garland (clarkia unguiculata)
Our very own endemic species, clarkia unguiculata— commonly know as elegant clarkia or mountain garland— is a species of wildflower found growing along the floors of oak woodlands. Look for it in late spring, behind fallen trees and along creek beds in California’s central valley, where its long, shapely fuchsia petals glow electric against twilight.
Silver Lupine (lupinus albifrons)
This ubiquitous perennial blooms throughout the year and is easy to find, especially along Big Sur’s Highway 1 and in the meadows, prairies, and forest clearings of its native California and Oregon. Formally named lupinus albifrons, it also goes by silver lupine, white-leaf bush lupine, and evergreen lupine and is a member of several plant families. Its violet-blue flowers and silvery leaves provide the only existing food supply (and exceptional periwinkle camouflage) for the larvae of the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.
Hummingbird Sage (salvia spathacea)
This California native is one of the main fragrance ingredients in our Topanga Canyon Field Lab Wilderness Perfumes. Known as pitcher sage or hummingbird sage (salvia spathacea), this powerfully aromatic plant is a favorite of hummingbirds, with dark magenta flowers and bright, soft leaves. March through May is the best time to find this beauty— look among oaks or in the chaparrals that trace the Pacific coast from the Bay Area to San Diego.
Crimson (aquilegia formosa)
Meet aquilegia formosa, known commonly as crimson, western, or red columbine. We love its wild, rambling range, stretching from Alaska to Baja and as far east as Montana and found in most forested habitats, especially along streams. The crimson columbine’s red and yellow petals attract hummingbirds and sphinx moths, and while its seeds are toxic, its petals are sweet and edible. We often see it leaning over the shaded trails that line our coastal canyon floors.
The Carrizo Plain
This last one isn’t a single wildflower, it’s more like the wildflower mothership: the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The largest single native grassland left in California, the Carrizo Plain is a bit remote, but it’s one of the most beautiful wildflower viewing areas in California, and flower hunters everywhere plan their year around witnessing the springtime event of its bloom, when the previously dry plain comes alive with color. About 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, this 200,000+ acres of magic is well worth the journey.