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Everything’s Coming Up Wildflowers: Your Complete Guide to Orange County’s Wild Blooms

Spring is the real New Year. Everything is blooming. Colors are vivid. The air smells better. And around Orange County, you’ve probably seen unexpected pops of color on hillsides and stretches of land that are normally in an earth tones palette more suited to a reality TV celebrity dining room.

Oh, you’re Wild, Mustard! Wild Mustard is actually not native, but we still love seeing its bright colors in spring.

We haven’t had the deluges forecast with El Niño, yet the combination of wet and warm has Orange County blooming. There are several groups dedicated to identifying and finding each of the 100+ native wildflower species of Orange County.

Plan your wildflower safari right here.

Clockwise, from top left: California Poppy, Coulter Matilija Poppies, Bush Monkey Flower, Coastal Sunflower

Clockwise, from top left: California Poppy, Coulter Matilija Poppies, Bush Monkey Flower, Coastal Sunflower

It’s a short-lived thrill to see our sage colored landscape carpeted in golds, purples, reds, blues, and whites, so take advantage of this brief period when everything is in bloom. Depending on the weather, certain flowers bloom at different times and locales and even different years. You can usually start seeing the most flowers March through May locally, but it all depends on the weather.

OC Register

OC Register

To list specific hikes and flowers here would make this posting outdated in a day or two, as the scenery can change rapidly. 

We’re not the only ones who love wildflowers, as the guides below prove, and California’s Department of Parks and Recreation even has a totally non-ironic, honest-to-goodness Wildflower Hotline.

Get the Definitive OC Wildflower Book

wildflowers orange county book

The must-have guide before you set out is Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains guidebook. Bob Allen and Fred Roberts wrote the book on OC’s wildflowers, literally, and the book is encyclopedic in its knowledge with over 2,000 photos of 700 species and 500 pages that can help you identify both the flowers and pollinators (think bugs and insects that help these flowers bloom). If you’ve ever taken a picture and wished you knew what flower you were looking at, this guide makes it easy with a color-coded index as well.

Get it on Amazon or at several local nature centers.

Here are the best places to find out what’s blooming and where to see it when you want to go.

Seven Ultimate Resources for Spotting Wildflowers in OC

1) Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks

coast sunflowers crystal cove

Coast Sunflowers in Crystal Cove State Park by author

The best resource for the most local wildflower blooms is run by Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. The Ranch covers 40,000 open space acres from the mountains and foothills of the Santa Anas (that’s the range that includes Saddleback Peak) all the way into the Pacific Marine Conservation Areas off of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. It is the only National Natural Landmark in Orange County. This is your source for interpretive walks to learn about and view wildflowers, and you can sign up directly from the site to join walks, tours and hikes. You can also volunteer to plant natives and destroy intrusive plants (that lovely yellow mustard you’ve been seeing is an invader).

2) Theodore Payne Foundation

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants has weekly postings and detailed guides describing the wildflower bloom sites in Southern California. Got a hot tip? Send ’em in to them. The Foundation center is located in Sun Valley but they are famous for their Spring Poppy Days Plant sale, Native Plant Garden Tours, and wildflower hikes.

3) Natural History Wanderings

This blog is a comprehensive source on the best and latest blooms in California and across the Western US. Plus, this is a good site to check when heading to the Sierras, Death Valley or Anza Borrego.

4) The California Native Plant Society

Can you believe we have this many wildflower resources? The California Native Plant Society Orange County Chapter is another treasure trove of information. They lead garden tours with names like, California in My Garden! They lead free hikes that focus on the beauty of the plants as well as the flowers’ role in their ecosystems. The best part is that their hikes often access areas that are not always open to the public.

5) Environmental Nature Center

encenter.org

encenter.org

The Environmental Nature Center’s new building alone is worth a visit for its architectural quality.

Poppies at the Environmental Nature Center, by author

Poppies at the Environmental Nature Center, by author

To see beautiful wildflowers without leaving the city at all, visit the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach. The history of the ENC is pretty incredible and very in line with the vision of OCExplore. Take an unused space and make it useful? Create a haven within a crowded, urban landscape? Read their history, it makes me hopeful that this kind of development can still happen today (although it will definitely have to happen outside of Newport). It’s free to visit the displays and the gardens (donate as you are able). Bring your lunch and visit the gardens for a midday break – doesn’t that sound more appealing than running errands on your lunch?

6) Fullerton Arboretum

Fullerton Arboretum

Fullerton Arboretum

The Fullerton Arboretum is another not-so-wild place to find wildflowers. This is another free oasis (if you can, suggested donation is $5) that’s open daily. There is a small museum and an 1894 home restored to Victorian splendor. Free tours, plant sales, and educational events are offered – seriously, it’s not just for moms home-schooling their kids, there’s real plant life thriving here. And right now, the different plant communities on the grounds offer plenty of blooms and chances to catch wildflowers.

7) UCI Arboretum

UCI_Arboretum_gazebo

The California native grasslands and wildflower field is part of the 12.5-acre research botanic garden. The UCI Arboretum hosts occasional tours and open house events, and is a site to appreciate the subdued native landscape of the region.

Despite its huge population and megalopolis urban centers, California is still a big playground. If you want to add a roadtrip to your quest for fields of wildflowers to roam in, here are a few more of our favorites:

Warning: Avoid Poison Oak

poison oak

Before heading out to a new trail, check on the current trail conditions. Be sure to wear good shoes, sunscreen and a hat, and bring a camera. The first plant to identify and watch out for is poison oak. Repeat after me: Leaves of Three – Let it Be.

Wildflowers are in full, bright bloom in Orange County for a brief period around March to May) each year. Bookmark this guide so you can review it each year!

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