You have to be living under a rock to have not noticed the sudden surge in greenery and flora throughout the state of California since around mid-February. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely seen the effects of the superbloom around you. Whether you’re driving up the 101 or making your way onto campus, masses of wildflowers have arisen all around!
So what exactly is happening? A superbloom is a rare natural phenomenon known to predominantly occur in the desert regions of California and Arizona, and, occasionally, in the wetlands of South Africa.
Superblooms are rare because there needs to be extremely precise weather conditions present in order for the botanical population to thrive.
The right amount of rain must be present for the native flowers of California to be able to grow. The area must begin relatively dry to prevent the growth of certain types of invasive grasses. Bromes is one type of grass that, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on ecosystems by sucking up the nutrients and space necessary for flowers to thrive.
Too much rainfall early in the year will lead to an overgrowth of bromes and prevent flowers from surfacing. The majority of rainfall should happen during the season of autumn starting in October and be substantial enough to soak all the way into the soil. For the best growth, rains should last through April. This is the only way that the seeds of inactive flowers beneath the ground will have access to sufficient rainfall to grow.
The exact right amount of water should reach the flowers in order to keep them from either flooding or becoming dehydrated, this typically means about 200% more rainfall than in an average year. Once the proper water conditions are secured, the flowers must have the right amount of cloud coverage to prevent them from baking under the sun.
The final thing to ensure a superbloom is a lack of harsh winds. When wind speeds become too fast there runs a risk of flowers being blown away and uprooted.
These specific conditions are only met on very limited occasions. After the droughts, fires and flash floods we find ourselves in the spring of 2023, with conditions ideal for another superbloom. Some of the most abundant flowers in California include purple sky lupines, Catalina mariposa lilies, pale yellow tidytips, Santa Ynez false lupines and of course the iconic California poppies.
Superblooms only occur about once every ten years, with the number increasing in more recent years despite the ongoing drought experienced in California due to climate change. The last superbloom observed in California happened in 2019. Since then, the California climate has been steadily gearing up for the next one.
If you find yourself with a free afternoon, be sure to check out the budding florals by visiting one of the many local viewpoints or hiking locations where the flowers can be viewed in their full form! You’ll find some of the best views at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve and Carrizo Plain National Monument.