The past couple weeks of warm weather have scorched the San Francisco Bay Area hillsides. As the green grasses fade to California-golden brown, a variety of colorful wildflowers have popped up to take the spotlight. On my trail runs, I’ve been cataloguing the different wildflowers I encounter, and I came up with this list of the ten most-common wildflowers blooming right now in the Bay Area. So if you’ve been wondering what that sweet-smelling, white tree blossom is as you sprint by it on the trails, I hope this list will give you some insight.
Buckeye tree (Aesculus californica):
The California buckeye is a native tree that makes white blossoms in the late spring and early summer. In the fall, large buckeye nuts form at the end of the blossom clusters and fall to the ground. The Native Americans would crush buckeye nuts, which have a lot of toxic tannins in them, and throw the crushed nuts into the streams to stun fish so they could easily collect them.
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata):
If you’re ever stranded on a trail run with nothing to eat, chomp on some miner’s lettuce! It’s an edible native-green similar to spinach. This time of year, tiny white flowers bloom in the middle of its round leaves.
Sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus):
This native California plant supposedly was named because its flower resembles a monkey’s face; I can’t really make the connection but maybe with a little imagination you will be able to see it. Like miner’s lettuce, the monkey flower is edible, but it tastes salty and isn’t very palatable.
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica):
This is the California state flower, and contrary to popular opinion, you won’t get arrested if you pick a poppy…as long as it’s on privately owned land and you have the permission of the landowner.
Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum):
Native Americans harvested the corms—tuber-like roots—of blue dicks, and deer and wild pigs often graze on them today.
Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla):
Not to be confused with the Pacific lupine, which looks similar, Chinese houses are prominent on the hillsides right now. The flowers were named “Chinese houses” because they look like pagodas (as with the monkey-flower, it’s sort of a stretch).
Indian paintbrush (Casilleja affinis):
Native Americans used the sweet-tasting, red petals of the Indian paintbrush as medicine, but unless you’re a skilled botanist, it would be wise to skip the paintbrush and take some ibuprofen if you sprain your ankle during a trail run. Indian paintbrush is very toxic if consumed at the wrong time or in the wrong amount.
Rose clover (Trifolium hirtum):
This is an invasive species originally from Turkey, introduced to California in the 1940s as a forage-crop for livestock. Today it’s a bane to native ecosystems, so do your civic duty and pick some roses on your run!
Thick-fruited vetch (Vicia villosa): Native to parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, vetches were cultivated in California as a forage-crop and as ground cover in vineyards and orchards.
Mariposa lily (Calochortus):
There are thirty-seven species in the Calochortus genus, and many of them thrive in the Bay Area. I’ve seen yellow, purplish, and white mariposa lilies growing on the trails. Mariposa means “butterfly” in Spanish. This name is one I can understand! The leaves are as beautiful and delicate as butterfly wings, and the plant’s leafless stem makes the flower appear to float in the grass like a butterfly poised on a twig.
Recommended San Francisco Bay Area trails for wildflower viewing—
Almaden Quicksilver County Park, New Almaden trail: buckeyes, poppies, miner’s lettuce
Santa Teresa County Park, Fortini Road trail: mariposa lilies, poppies, California sage
Los Gatos Creek Trail: monkey flowers, poppies, Spanish broom, rose clover
Rancho San-Antonio County Park, Chamise trail: Indian paintbrush, blue dicks, Ithuriel’s spear, owl clover
So what are you waiting for? Get started on your spring training now!