Is it going to be a superbloom this year? I’ve been asked this question so many times recently that it’s worth taking a moment to unpack it. Driving up La Tuna canyon yesterday, I noticed thick, lush patches of Phacelia carpeting the road cuts. I feel confident saying that there will be a profusion of flowers there very soon, along with many other places in Southern California. As the Wildflower Hotline gets underway for the season, we are already getting reports from Anza Borrego and other areas around the region, where the earliest spring blooms are already at their peak.

After an exceptional wildflower year last year, documented by a slew of articles from local, national and international sources, the hype is bigger than ever this year. Everyone wants to know if it will be another ‘superbloom.’ Since there is not a standard definition of this term, and nature is unpredictable, it’s hard to give a succinct answer to that question. With above average rainfall in many areas, there will be a whole lot of flowers blooming this spring, but if they qualify as a superbloom or not will be in the eye of the beholder.

I’m seeing lots of comments from people who don’t like the term superbloom, and I understand their reasoning. The term is a proxy for the immense hype that can cause problems, trampling of these sensitive ecosystems by overeager crowds being chief among them. It’s a real problem, but to me, is a solvable one.

Last year, we submitted a grant with the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley to the state that would have funded infrastructure improvements at the most popular wildflower sites. The project would have allocated funds to create better trails, boardwalks, barriers to prevent crowds from entering sensitive areas, and signage that would give a deeper understanding of the botany, ecology and conservation needs of these places.

Unfortunately, the grant was not funded, but it did give us a window into the challenges that land managers face, and management actions that they believe would improve the situation. We spoke to staff from ten different sites (including most of the highest profile ‘superbloom’ areas.) It was interesting to hear about their ideas on how to improve access while protecting natural systems.

The solutions they suggested were not complicated or expensive. Better barriers and fencing, trail enhancements, signage with conservation messages and improved parking would go a long way to allow people to experience these wonderful places without damaging them. We hope to find a funder in the future who will see the value in better managing the outpouring of enthusiasm every wildflower season. This could go a long way to protecting those habitats, while creating equitable access to nature with a conservation message.

I believe that the intense public interest in California wildflowers is a good thing. It gives us an opportunity to connect people to the natural world and to make the case for saving and protecting what is left of California wildflower habitats while strengthening the native plant movement. That interest should be guided towards stewardship and conservation if we want to protect these ecosystems and educate the public. The viral superbloom moment can be a gateway towards a deeper public appreciation of native plants. That can be translated into cultural, educational and political changes that will protect nature and instill a deeper understanding of environmental issues in the public consciousness.

The Carrizo Plain, or Joshua Tree, or the Antelope Valley poppy fields are incredible sites to behold. Though those are probably what people have in mind when the say superbloom, I’d like to argue that the lesser known areas are equally deserving of that title. In the San Gabriel or Santa Monica mountains, a short drive from LA, you can find incredibly diverse wildflowers on many trails. They may not be blooming by the billions simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t superblooms. The intricate details of each plant, their ecological interactions, and the environments that they thrive in are incredibly interesting and inspiring, no matter how many flowers are blooming at one time.

I haven’t really answered the question at hand, because each person defines their own superbloom, but all indications signal that it will likely be a very good year for wildflowers. Last year, I recorded a talk on wildflowers which goes in to more detail on the mega blooms of California. Check it out if you’re looking to learn more about these incredible events. On the heels of the epic 2023 season (which will go down in the history books,) and the rare summer monsoon in LA that followed it, wildflower hunters are getting very lucky. Enjoy!