Best Places to See Wildflowers Around the United States
Despite record-breaking low temperatures still shocking the Midwest, South and Northeast of the United States, spring is actually right around the corner. As temperatures warm, wildflowers will pop up across the country, from California's deserts to the hills of New Hampshire. Some areas lay claim to a specific kind of wildflower, like the bluebonnets of the Texas Hill Country , while others will feature a diverse medley of colorful blooms.
Besides being beautiful to look at, wildflowers are valuable to scientists studying climate because of the wide range of environmental triggers that spark their bloom—everything from snow melt to precipitation, depending on species and location. According to David Inouye, an ecologist at the University of Maryland, "you have these different species responding to different environmental cues, so you can be looking at the effects of snow pack and temperature and precipitation and gain insight into the whole community."
Studying native plants also gives scientists a clue to how the climate has changed over the years: Scientists in Massachusetts, for example, were able to draw conclusions about climate change by using a baseline of bloom dates from the 1800s meticulously recorded by none other than Henry David Thoreau. After comparing Thoreau’s observations, written between 1852 to 1861, with current bloom dates, the scientists noticed that the flowers were blooming earlier than when Thoreau was writing.
Inouye, who has been studying wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains for four decades, says that spring has been coming earlier each year, triggering an earlier growing season. But in the Southwest and California, where wildflower blooms are largely dictated by precipitation, the trend is different. Lack of precipitation means that desert wildflower seeds, which are mostly annuals, won't germinate—instead of a desert full of colorful flowers, we might end up with a desert of dormant seeds.
Antelope Valley, California
California's Mojave Desert might seem an unlikely place to see blooms of wildflowers, but each spring, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve —located in the desert's western tip—explodes into a sea of orange California poppies. It's the largest and most dependable bloom of the species—California's official flower—in the state. While the color and intensity of bloom changes each year, flowers are usually at their height mid-April, though they can be seen as early as mid-February and as late as the end of May.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Inside Colorado's Gunnison National Forest lies Crested Butte, dubbed the state capital of wildflowers. Each summer, the area erupts in color as a variety of mountain wildflowers bloom from June to August. Wildflower varieties include the death camas (a tall member of the lily family), elephant head (a small flower with tiny pink blooms) and alpine sunflowers, which grow throughout the mountains of Colorado. At peak bloom in mid-July, the area hosts a wildflower festival , featuring hikes and workshops geared toward wildflower enthusiasts (classes range from photography to wildflower medicine). This year's festival is scheduled for July 13-19, and is expected to draw visitors from around the country.