A Guide to San Diego Wildflowers

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By Jenna King

San Diego’s picture-perfect beaches and stunning sunsets tend to hog the spotlight. The local wildflowers are proof there’s another star on this city’s stage! Whether you’re taking a springtime hike or you’re sprucing up your landscape, wildflowers are worth a second look. Here’s a quick guide to San Diego wildflowers. Plus, a few tips for incorporating native California flowers in your own yard.

California Lilac

Photo from cultivar413 via CC BY 2.0

Few sights can match a wide expanse of purple-blue California lilac. These flowers come in a few varieties. Lilac in the mountains is a little different than the flowers in the lowlands. Regardless of species, California lilacs all have a few things in common. They’re fragrant, drought-resistant, and they’re all drop-dead gorgeous. Black Mountain Open Space Park is a great place to see California lilacs sprout in spring. Keep an eye out for their violet-blue petals growing in distinctive bunches.

California Sunflower

California Sunflower – Helianthus californicus from Björn S via CC BY-SA 2.0

Also found in the Bay Area, California sunflower is a welcome sight for any nature lover. This species is excellent for attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies. These blossoms are easy to spot, as some California sunflowers grow over 10 feet tall.

California Poppies

California Poppy – Eschscholzia californica from Björn S via CC BY-SA 2.0

Poppies are such a prized plant in California, the state gave them their own park, a three-hour drive away in the Alley Valley Poppy Reserve. During the Coronavirus outbreak, unfortunately, the reserve is closed to vehicular traffic, though the live poppy cam provides a view. But fear not: California poppies sprout up in open spaces all around San Diego. They range in color from yellow to deep orange. These poppies are super easy to grow. Just spread a few seeds in the fall, forget them, and your yard will be awash with poppies bloom in spring!

Lupines (Bluebonnets)

Photo from Terry Lucas via CC By 3.0

Texans call them “bluebonnets” and claim them as the state flower. On the West Coast, we call these distinctive blooms “lupine.” They come in several varieties. They love sandy soil, sun, and don’t need much water once their roots are established. While Mission Trails Regional Park is a great place to see lupines in the wild, any home improvement center or seed store will sell a packet so you can grow them at home.

Mariposa Lilies

mariposa lily
Mariposa Lily from Tom Hilton via CC BY 2.0

Like some of our other favorite wildflowers, mariposa lilies come in different varieties and colors. Fortunately for us, 45 of the 67 different mariposa lily species are native to California. Unlike many wildflowers, mariposa lilies grow from a bulb. This makes them extra hardy. They can even survive wildfires!

Monkey Flower

Sticky Monkey-Flower - Diplacus aurantiacus
Sticky Monkey-Flower – Diplacus aurantiacus from Björn S via CC BY-SA 2.0

Some species of this wildflower produce blooms that resemble a tiny monkey’s face. In the San Diego area, though, the monkey flower you’ll find in the wild probably won’t resemble an actual monkey. These plants like full to partial sun and lots of moisture. Once they’re established, they require no maintenance other than watering. If planting o your own property, mulch can help the soil retain moisture and keep your monkey flowers thriving.

Flowering Cacti

Summer Cactus Flowers
Photo from tdlucas5000 via CC BY 2.0

San Diego and the surrounding areas are home to many types of blooming cacti. Barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, and beehive cacti all produce gorgeous blossoms bright enough to stop hikers in their tracks. You can find some of these desert delights in yards around town. To get the full effect of blooming cacti, you’ve got to go to the desert and see them in the wild. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a two-hour drive from the city. But when it comes to blooming cacti — and California wildflowers in general — you’ll find plenty of bright displays right here in San Diego.

Jenna King is a writer, avid hiker, and survivalist. She spends most of her time backpacking and using organic elements within nature.


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