by Beverly Lane
Spring starts officially with the vernal equinox, which comes on March 20 this year. It’s the date when day and night are of equal length, after which the days grow longer. And with spring comes spring wildflowers.
It’s always hard to predict how profuse the flower displays will be, because so many factors play a role: rainfall amounts and timing, temperature changes, etc. However, some early bloomers have begun to appear.
At Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch, the manzanita bushes put out small, delicate, bell-shaped blossoms in pink and white. Growing under the manzanita and drawing nourishment from its roots is Indian warrior. This is a magenta-colored flower with fernlike petals and leaves, which looks a bit like a bottlebrush.
Another early arrival is shooting star, which has petals of blue and/or white. Shooting star is aptly named – that’s what it resembles.
A good place to see the manzanita blossoms and Indian warriors is the top of the Ridge Trail above the Hazel-Atlas sand mine portal. The Chaparral Loop Trail is also good for wildflower viewing, as is the Manhattan Canyon Trail. There’s often a grassy hillside full of shooting stars at the head of the canyon.
Another good park for manzanita blossoms and Indian warriors is Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve in Richmond. Enter the park at Heavenly Ridge Lane, then take the Manzanita Loop. Sobrante Ridge is one of the last known stands of the rare and endangered Alameda or pallid manzanita. Another stand is located at Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland.
As the wildflower season progresses, other regional parks with good displays include Morgan Territory Regional Preserve east of Mt. Diablo, Diablo Foothills in Walnut Creek, Briones Regional Park near Martinez, and the Dunn Trail at Redwood Regional Park in Oakland.
One of the best regional parks for wildflowers, though, is Sunol Regional Wilderness. Its entrance is on Geary Road off Calaveras Road, five miles south of Interstate 680 in southern Alameda County.
Sunol harbors a great variety of wildflowers, especially on the Camp Ohlone and Canyon View trails. The park will stage a wildflower festival on April 18, including guided walks and lots of family-friendly activities. Check the park district web site at www.ebparks.org for information.
And when you visit, be sure to pick up a pocket guide to 50 common Sunol wildflowers, which is available for a small fee at the visitor center.
Although it takes a bit of effort to get there, probably the most spectacular wildflower display in the park district is on Rocky Ridge along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail.
Start at the Lichen Bark picnic area in Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore. From there it’s a two-mile uphill hike to Rocky Ridge. Besides the beautiful wildflowers, especially goldfields, there are great views of the Livermore Valley.
Hiking the Ohlone Wilderness Trail requires a permit, which is also a map and guide. It costs $2 per person and is good for a year from date of purchase.
For lots of flowering plants in a small, easily accessible place, visit the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley. Located at the intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road and South Park Drive, the garden has the largest collection of California native plants anywhere. And something is always in bloom, no matter the time of year. For information, call 888-327-2757, ext. 3169.
Spring is special in the regional parks. And park district naturalists lead frequent nature walks to help you enjoy it. You can access a schedule online at the district web site, or pick up a copy of Regional in Nature, the bimonthly calendar of events, at one of the visitor centers. Public libraries have them too. So don’t miss out on this beautiful season.