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Wildflowers abloom all over Marin’s hillsides

April 24, 2015
Martha Proctor

Spring in Marin provides a dramatic panorama of vivid color, intricate shape and varying texture as our wildflowers appear in their ever-changing, enchanting variety. With all the atypically warm weather we’ve experienced in Marin this year, it won’t be long before the hillsides are ablaze with wildflowers of every description.

In mid-March, the hillsides and woodlands were dotted with white milkmaids, pale blue forget-me-nots, pink checkerbloom and patches of beautiful Douglas iris in shades from pale blue to purple. In April we feast our eyes on myriad intoxicating color and unique design as columbine, Indian paintbrush, beach pea, cow clover, seaside daisy, sky lupine, California poppies, and wild radish produce their unique blossoms.

Marin County is considered to be in the California Floristic Province (CFP), a zone of extremely high biodiversity and a high concentration of endemic plants (approximately 8,000 plant species), one of the five bioiversity hotspots in the world with Mediterranean climates as designated by Conservation International. A Mediterranean climate, such as we experience in California and, specifically in Marin, is characterized by hot, dry summers and —until recently — cool, wet winters. The biodiversity in the CFP stems from the numerous ecosystems present, such as the coastal strand, the oak woodland, the mixed evergreen forest, the coastal redwood forest, chaparral and riparian zones, many of which are interspersed with urban areas. A biodiversity hotspot contains irreplaceable areas for the plants and animals that live there.

To experience the beauty as it unfolds in the Marin County region of the California Floristic Province, consider hiking or strolling through any or all of the following sites. Along the coast, there are three outstanding areas that offer visitors a wealth of opportunity to see a staggering variety of wildflowers:

• China Camp State Park: The park is a coastal salt marsh and part of a mixed evergreen forest — a good spot to see gum plant and cord grass.

• Point Reyes National Seashore: Here you will find 75,000 acres on which to see Douglas fir and bishop pine forests alongside an astonishing variety of wildflowers nearly all year round.

At Chimney Rock, for instance, at the height of the spring bloom, you can view an amazing panorama of goldfields, blue-eyed grass, mule ears, pussy ears, Indian paintbrush, lupine, and Douglas iris.

• Marin Headlands: You will see marsh and lagoon flora with a display of matchweed, Franciscan wildflower and fragrant everlasting.

For flowers that flourish in more inland areas, the following sites are a must:

• Mount Tamalpais State Park: View chaparral plants that grow in serpentine grassland and sandstone soils.

• Ring Mountain: You can spot Mariposa lilies and star-tulips, Marin western flax, Tiburon buckwheat and Tiburon paintbrush.

• Marin Municipal Water District: This area contains a diverse area of grassland and coast range mountain meadows in which to see serpentine star lily, and large flower star tulip.

• Muir Woods: A highly visited tourist site, it features a coastal redwood forest and understory plants such as western coltsfoot, leopard lily, and western trillium.

• Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve: A good spot to see early wildflowers such as owl’s clover and star lily.

• Rock Spring: As a grassland area, this is a great spot to enjoy seeing large groupings of goldfields, blue phacelia, clarkia and baby blue eyes.

• Samuel P. Taylor State Park: A mixture of evergreen and evergreen forest with streamside vegetation including Smith’s Fairy Bells, violets and orchids.

If you would like to review pictures of the various wildflowers, “Wildflowers of Northern California’s Wine Country and North Coast Ranges” by Reny Parker has photos displayed by color palette, or pick up the brochure “Wildflowers of Point Reyes National Seashore” edited by Katherine Holbrook and Elizabeth Ptak and distributed by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association.

Bring your camera and plan to spend several afternoons or mornings in as many of these sites as possible. In Marin we are blessed to live within a hotspot of beauty and biodiversity.

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