January’s Wildflowers

Today, I was lucky enough to spot these wildflowers on my way down the mountain.


This is an Indian Paintbrush, probably Castilleja chromosa, the most common western paintbrush. I say probably, as I have misplaced my $75 Jepson’s. This paintbrush is also called Early Indian Paintbrush or Desert Paintbrush. It is found all over the Western United States in dry conditions. The genus Castilleja is generally considered a hemiparasite. It can live without a host, however it performs better with one. The patches I usually photograph are intertwined with a local vetch, which is high in nitrogen.


This is the vetch that grows with the paintbrush, as well as on its own. It is probably Vicia americana, which is native to all of California. It is high in nitrogen and makes a great cover crop as well as functions well for erosion control.


This lupine is probably the Lupinus albifrons or Silver Bush Lupine. It is a perennial and likes dry conditions. As with the vetch, this is a great nitrogen fixer. I have several natives growing in my garden. This one was shot at a much lower elevation, where plants bloom earlier.


This is the Santa Lucia Gooseberry, or Ribes sericeum. It is a favorite of birds, and the berries are delicious, although I rarely get more than a few, as the birds beat me to them! Here is one in berry form that I took last June. See those spikes? Ouch. They are quite sharp, and thus the name, “gooseberry.”

I hope to post two of these monthly wildflowers each month during the blooming season. I am not the best at identification, despite my best efforts to be accurate. In order to assure accuracy, I am asking firefox, of Fire Safe Gardens, and XT of Xasauan Today to check these for accuracy and post in the comments below. Both are listed in the Big Sur/LPNF links to the right, as well as direct links in this post. Both have extensive knowledge of local flora and are wonderful human beings. Thanks, gentlemen, for all your help this past year and a half with blogging!

9 thoughts on “January’s Wildflowers

  1. Kate,
    Great pics! yes, I think the id’s are all correct. Great to see some of these wonderful plants brought to a larger audience. Interesting to note that lupines thrive in disturbed environments like grazed areas, road cuts, and after fires when grass competition and ground cover is lessened. I noticed the large group of yellow bush lupines in Coyote (Jap) Flats at Andrew Molera all died at the same time this year. Some were over 6ft tall. I wonder what event started them growing at at the same time? Was that area flooded in the last 5-10 years? Perhaps XT will have an idea.

  2. I, too, hope XT can educate the rest of us regarding the yellow bush lupine. I see them on the side of the highway, but have none along Plaskett. Thank you for taking the time, firefox, to check my identifications. I am not particularly good at this, but I always strive to become better!

  3. The Jepson’s Manual is a concise encyclopedia of California flora. The book is thick, expensive, and accurate. It is used by botanists and wildflower enthusiasts to figure out exact species of plants from the keys in the book. It is pretty technical and I don’t even own one myself. I leave that sort of thing up to the REAL experts
    if you are just starting out and want to enjoy wildflowers, you may want to look at one of the great color photo guides out there. Try ‘Introduction to California Spring Wildflowers” by Phillip Munz published by University of California Press. It is available at the new bookstore, River City Books, in Crossroads Carmel off Rio Rd.

  4. I concur with firefox, that a photo guide is quite helpful. With the Jepson’s (when I knew where it was), I would often start with one of the photo guides, and then go to Jepson’s to fine tune and confirm my identification. It has been years since I have done that, though.

  5. Nice to see the Gooseberry blooming already. I’m afraid I don’t have any special insight into why the the yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) on the flat at Molera all died this year (maybe a disease?). There were incredible displays of yellow lupine along Hwy. One north of Santa Cruz last spring. Hopefully, this will be another great year for wildflowers!

  6. XT, I really think the yellow bush lupine simply came to the end of their natural lives. That is why I speculate that they are all the same age and size. But I have noted that many disturbance lovers such as lupine and ceanothus seem to age identically in groups. Like the ceanothus colonies near Cone Peak which coincide with older fires.

  7. The blooming of gooseberries — which look to me like beautiful pendant earrings — is always a hallmark of this season for me. So much so that I’m tempted to call (to myself) this current lunar cycle “The Gooseberry Moon.”

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