Will winter rain lead to another wildflower superbloom on Carrizo Plain?

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After heavy winter rain, San Luis Obispo County’s hills are beginning to burst with color — but what about the area’s wildflowers?

Experts said it’s too early to tell whether there’s potential for a superbloom, which painted the Carrizo Plain National Monument vivid shades of gold and purple in 2017. The bountiful native flowers created such a spectacle they could even been seen from space.

“It should be a good bloom out there,” said David Keil, a Cal Poly emeritus botany professor. “I’m not sure whether it’ll be a superbloom or not.”

Two years ago, San Luis Obispo County had its rainiest January in 20 years, following a five-year drought.

Although it’s unclear which conditions lead to a wildflower superbloom, there are some factors that may help, Keil said.

In the case of the 2017 superbloom, winter rain began falling in the area in December 2016 and continued into early 2017, which gave some wildflower species a boost, he said.

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Wildflowers fill a field next to Soda Lake Road in the Carrizo Plain National Monument in March 2017. A wildflower superbloom could be coming to San Luis Obispo County in the spring of 2019. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Due to the drought, there also wasn’t much grass, so the flowers weren’t choked out, Keil said.

“The entire Carrizo Plain was just bursting with flowers,” he said.

In 2018, little rain fell until the spring, when the county had a “Minor Miracle March.” That meant the wildflower display wasn’t very exciting, especially in comparison to the previous year’s bloom.

The temperature will also play a role. Cold weather could slow growth, and hot weather might roast the plants, Keil said.

Some species of flowers only make an appearance in San Luis Obispo County if the area gets a solid amount of precipitation in November and December, said David Chipping, president of Friends of the Carrizo Plain, a nonprofit that supports conservation efforts in the area.

Chipping and Keil said the first wildflowers will likely begin to show up on the Carrizo Plain in March and continue blooming into April.

“It has good enough rain that it might be a good bloom,” Chipping said. “We certainly would not promise anything.”

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.