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The best spots to see wildflowers in SLO County this spring

Wildflowers at Highway 58 and Shell Creek Road in 2005.
Wildflowers at Highway 58 and Shell Creek Road in 2005. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

“Every child is born a naturalist. His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.”

R. Search

By all accounts, this year should offer an abundance of wildflowers that we have not seen in more than six years of drought.

Wildflowers will bloom with even the smallest amount of rain but if Mother Nature continues throughout the spring, this year should bring forth a spectacular show of color.

Most areas of San Luis Obispo County have or are close to reaching their yearly total of rain, and even though we are a Mediterranean climate, February and March are historically two of our rainiest months. April and May tend to have minimal rain with the summer months having scant if any rainfall at all.

Of course in 2015 we did have a summer thunderstorm that drenched parts of San Luis Obispo County, but those moments are rare at best.

And because we never really know the wildflower palette that will be created and painted upon the landscape each year, don’t miss the chance to share this year with your children.

Wildflowers should start to bloom around San Luis Obispo County around the first week of March. You’ll see California poppies and blue lupine growing along the shoulders of freeways.

That is your cue to grab the kids and head for the hills! Here’s a look at two great viewing locations — Shell Creek Road and Bitterwater Road in the North County.

Take a look at the wildflowers blooming along Shell Creek Road off Highway 58 in Santa Margarita and in the Carrizo Plain.

Shell Creek Road off Highway 58

This is one of the easiest locations to view the flowers. In 1988, Mary Coffeen, author of “Central Coast Wildflowers,” described this area as a living Persian carpet. Because of the recent rains, this year should be just as spectacular.

Here you will see Baby Blue Eyes (Nemophila menziesii), yellow Goldfields (Lasthenia chrysostoma), and white-tipped Tidy Tips (Layia platyglossa). Leafy Stem Coreopsis (Corelpsis calliopidea) and other varieties of coreopsis are also prominent in the area and will be mixed throughout.

This is the best place to get up close and personal with the wildflowers because they grow right up to the roadway edge.

All of the property on Shell Creek Road is private, so be respectful of the property owners. There are pull-outs along the road to stop but remember portions of Shell Creek Road are also open range, so be careful of the herd of cattle that also will be enjoying the wildflowers.

Bitterwater Road between Highways 58 and 46 East

Go here to truly experience the unbelievable waves of wildflower colors. Portions of this stretch are also open range.

There will be acres and acres of golden Fiddlenecks (Amsinckia) that will stretch for miles. Intermixed with these will be blue lupine (Lupinus spp.), golden orange California poppies (Exchscholzia californica), and a kaleidoscope of Phacelia colors including blue, purple, white and even yellow (Phacelia spp.).

You’ll also find lavender thistle sage (Salvia carduacea), deep red Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) and pinkish-red Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens).

Along with the beautiful wildflowers, your children will see a variety of pollinator bees. There are over 1,600 native bee species in California. Most are solitary ground nesters, which means they dig holes in bare dirt as opposed to living in hives like honey bees.

You will also see honey bees, but they are not native to the United States and were brought here from Europe.

Tami Reece lives in Paso Robles and has been gardening and preserving it’s bounty for 30 years. Email her if you know of a unique or beautiful garden at rosepetalranch96@gmail.com

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