Here’s What California’s Wildflower ‘Super Bloom’ Looks Like From Space

Wildflowers north of Los Padres National Forest in early December 2016 (before the winter rains) and in late March during the wildflower super bloom.

Wildflowers north of Los Padres National Forest in early December 2016 (before the winter rains) and in late March during the wildflower super bloom. (Images provided by Planet Labs)

It’s a fantastic year for wildflower lovers, who’ve been flocking to fields of poppies, lupine and golden brush. The orange, purple and yellow blooms are already populating the warmer climes of southern California and the Central Valley thanks to above average winter rainfall following five years of drought.

Carrizo Plain National Monument is bursting with flowers after one of the wettest winters in years.
Carrizo Plain National Monument is bursting with flowers after one of the wettest winters in years. (Bob Wick/BLM)

Hundreds of wildflower species blossom in California between March and July.

The bloom is just beginning in coastal areas of Northern California, but some areas, like Lassen Volcanic National Park, won’t see snowmelt until June or July, so there are plenty more opportunities to catch upcoming wildflowers this summer.

At KQED, we were curious about the size of the early spring Southern California blooms and whether or not you could see them from space. The answer: absolutely. The view from on high is spectacular.

Using high resolution satellite imagery from Planet Labs—a start-up founded by three ex-NASA engineers—we can see vast carpets of wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge and just north of Los Padres National Forest.

Use the vertical slider to compare side-by-side images.

Near Los Padres National Forest

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Satellites captured the images in late March, at the height of the bloom, and in most of those places, the wildflowers are now gone. Lush green and yellow is replaced by reddish browns as the flowers opened up for just a few weeks to become pollinated before dying off.

But you can still see vibrant colors in the satellite images on this page. Move the white scroll bar in the middle of each photo from left to right and to see a before and after comparison.

And if you’re looking to see wildflowers in person, check out Visit California, which created a list of when different California regions will see peak blooms.

Here’s What California’s Wildflower ‘Super Bloom’ Looks Like From Space 12 April,2017Lindsey Hoshaw
  • thanks, but wouldn’t a much better proof of the benefit of abundant rain be comparison of Year over Year pics??

    • BushyHyde

      Agreed. Are there ever flowers there in December? Don’t understand that choice.

  • Melinda McBride

    Please don’t encourage “frolicking”! The poppy preserve says it can take years to repair the damage done by “frolicking” and sitting in the flowers so that you can get a photo.

  • Ed Madej

    Nice work with this satellite imagery! Big wildflower blooms in Southern and Central California only occur every 5-15 years after wetter than average winters, and historically are poorly documented. Richard Minnich’s excellent 2008 book ” California’s Fading Wildflowers” attempts to examine how these wildflower blooms used to be much bigger before 1940, before intensive agricultural and suburban development, along with aggressive invasive species greatly diminished them. His examination of historical media reports of wildflower blooms has helped describe the extent and frequency of these amazing natural events. For example, Death Valley National Park has had approximately 21 good or big blooms in the last 112 years, or one bloom every 5.3 years.

  • Ah, mother Earth and its wonders. Pretty stunning view!

    PS. Whoever wants to make ca$h of posted comments, can do so. Please, check the Iink on my pr0fiIe for instructions

  • Ah, mother Earth and its wonders. Pretty stunning view!

Author

Lindsey Hoshaw

Lindsey Hoshaw is an interactive producer for KQED Science. Before joining KQED, Lindsey was a science correspondent for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Forbes and Scientific American. On Twitter @lindseyhoshaw

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