Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happenings: Wildflowers by the Millions, Part I

The law is unacceptably vague as to whether it is legal to trespass on private property in order to better appreciate masses of Spider Lupines in full bloom. Consequently, I was at a loss for what to do when we came across the extraordinary lupine fields at the northern end of the Grapevine.

We were driving towards Kern County in pursuit of wildflowers. The Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline[1] suggested that the hills near Gorman were full of California Coreopsis, a flower conspicuous as brilliant splotches of gold and yellow on steep hillsides.

However, the real show was to be found further north on part of the Tejon Ranch property. As we descended towards the hopeless wasteland called the Central Valley, a broad swath of blue commanded the eye and drew us onward.

Once down the Grapevine, we immediately took the Grapevine Road exit and headed to the 76 Station adjacent to the Ramada Limited Hotel (occupancy zero—just a guess). Many other travelers had likewise decided to stop and marvel at the sea of violet-blue wildflowers. Along the field’s margins, most of the color was provided by Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum subsp. capitatum). These common perennials grow from corms and bear bluish flowers on long, thin stems.

After a few hundred yards, however, the scattered Blue Dicks were overtaken by a vast, gently undulating sea of lupines in foamy blue and white. They were almost exclusively Spider Lupines (Lupinus benthamii). I hate to even try and put a number on how many flowers were blooming when we visited on Sunday the 27th, but I’ll be conservative and say millions. The lupines stretched on both sides of the freeway from the end of the Grapevine all the way north to the IKEA warehouse.

As one can tell from the photos, many people decided to take a self-guided tour of Tejon Ranch private property. They squeezed through a white vinyl fence near the gas station (some had to squeeze more than others) in order to gain access to the field. It was possible to enjoy the lupines somewhat more legally from the side of the road or behind the fence, but people were simply drawn to walk among the wildflowers.

Experiencing the enormity of this natural show was something of the sublime. It's a one-hour drive from Santa Clarita, sure, but who knows how many chances there will be to see a spectacle like this one?

Spider Lupines are so called because their very narrow leaflets resemble spider legs or spider webs. Twenty or so flowers are held in a raceme (flower stalk). As each flower matures, the white splotch on its banner (upper petal) turns progressively darker until it is a deep purple. The four flowers at the bottom of this arrangement were found on the same stem and show the progression of color with age. Plant writers seem to think it's important to remind readers that lupines are highly poisonous; I'll do you the courtesy of assuming that you don't try to eat everything you see and will leave the lupines out of your mouth.

[1]Yes, it exists. It’s quite useful, too. Visit or call (818)768-3533 to hear a very enthusiastic gentleman tell you about flowers all throughout Southern California.


Anonymous said...

Most of the pictures aren't coming through...

Jane said...

There are also huge masses of lupines on the hills along Plum Canyon Road, not so far a drive...

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