• Ephemerals and Wildflowers


    These, I call  ‘belly plants’ because you have to get down there to see them or photograph them. Beloved by the local neighbors and gardeners here in the foothills, they bloom fleetingly and disappear by late spring into the leafy mulch until next spring. Some are considered perennial and some annual, but most all are here very briefly.


    California Golden Violet Viola pedunculataCalifornia Golden Violet, Viola pedunculata
    Annual or perennial in mild climates like ours, this tiny, clear yellow violet is 4 to 8 inches high. A most charming little plant, the two upper petals are prettily blotched with brown on the reverse sides. California yellow violets like part shade and no water in summer so they are well-suited for under oaks. In the garden, it’s best to weed around the ones you may have, to cultivate and encourage them, as they are not easily transplanted. If you dig a large enough scoop of soil underneath and do not disturb the roots at all you may have success. A fun challenge!


    Henderson's Shooting stars, Dodecatheon hendersoniiHenderson’s Shooting stars, Dodecatheon hendersonii, appear as the first foliage to pop up in the early spring in a woodland garden or on north facing slopes and they wait until May to bloom. They have an 8 inch high flower cluster with 1/2 inch shooting stars, needs no summer water and is good encouraged, (by keeping weeds down), under oaks. The leaves appear, in early March, as leathery ovals in groups with lighter edges. It has a green stem which distinguishes it from Dodecatheon clevelandii, also in our foothill area, which has a reddish or purplish stem.


    Pretty Face, Triteleia ixioides

    Pretty Face, Triteleia ixioides
    Sunny starry yellow, Pretty Face is sometimes called Golden brodiaea or Golden Stars, and is native to California, appearing only slightly beyond the borders, according to CalFlora. This variety, found on my land and all through the Oakhurst Yosemite area, may be Triteleia ixioides ssp. scabra or Foothill Pretty Face. This pretty bulb first shows up as tall thin stems, early in February.  It blooms in May, one stalk per bulb with an umbrel of 10 or more 1/2 inch wide flowers, up-facing  with a pale green stripe on the outside of each petal that turns rosy burgundy when mature.


    Rose Globe Lily, Calochortus amoenusRose Globe Lily, Calochortus amoenus, sometimes called Rosy Fairy Lantern, is found in the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada, from Madera to Kern Counties, California. This is a  favorite among local folk, , but you must get way down to see these pale pink beauties. Related to the Mariposa lily the much smaller globe shaped flowers hang down like miniature cupped bells. Do look closely at one to see the soft “hairs” inside. The pointed grey-green, almost translucent foliage stands like a spear about 8 inches tall. The unusual seedpod that eventually forms in May is shaped like an origami pillow.


    Elegant Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegansElegant brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
    This pretty native has the same umbrella-like umbrel tipped with bright blue or lavender-blue trumpets about 1 inch long. The six petals have little if any yellow in the center of each flower, but a paler shade of the same flower color, which can distinguish it from other brodiaeas. It grows  8-10 inches tall on sunny woodland slopes in great numbers, all through the California foothills and other areas of the West.

    Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatumBlue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
    From the Amaryllis family, Blue Dicks are similar to small onion flowers in that they have long 18” stems with a tight umbrel topknot with 10-12 small florets. These perennials begin to bloom lavender-blue in June on single slender round stems, growing on dry slopes in sun or part shade. Dichelostemma comes from two Greek words ‘dicha,’ meaning ‘in two,’ and ‘stemma,’ “a garland or crown,” meaning “a garland which is parted to the middle,” describing the forked stamens.

    Superb Mariposa Lily, Calochortus superbus
    Superb Mariposa Lily, Calochortus superbus
    Derived from the Greek word kallos for “beautiful” and chortus,“grass,” referring to the grassy leaves, this Mariposa Lily, is nearly invisible until it blooms in mid June. C. superbus has three loose petals,  creamy white with speckles and spots and a yellow tinged spot in the middle of each.  These are beloved by the local folks in the Sierra foothills and especially by those from the town of Mariposa, of course!

    Annual Wildflowers

    Annual native wildflowers appear year after year primarily from seed. Their seeds have been deposited in the ‘seed bank’ that exists in the soil of every native area and are sprouted each year, triggered by fall rains.

    Note: If you are restoring a formerly weedy area, you may need to sow fresh seed every few years for the most color. Most here occur naturally ad were here when we arrived.  I have marked those that are *sown every few years.


    Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtumRose Clover, Trifolium hirtum, meaning ‘hairy three leaf’ is an annual forb or herb in the pea family. It’s very attractive in drifts and must crowd out other weaken plants to form them. It is still used as a cover crop in vineyards and farmland and that may be how it came to be here. The California Invasive Plant Council classifies the statewide impact of Trifolium hirtum as ‘moderate’, however in the foothill garden it behaves itself and adds a pink glow to the spring landscape. One of the few attractive non-natives, you’ll rarely eradicate if you tried.

    Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliataMiner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata All stems rise from a rosette at the base of the plant.Also called Indian Lettuce, it’s edible and tasty! The flowers are tiny as the point of a pencil and bloom above a disk of fleshy circular leaf. It prefers cool, damp conditions, grows in stands in partly shady areas. Surprise your family or better, your friends with Miner’s Lettuce salads.


    Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolorMiniature lupine, Lupinus bicolor, is a low, 5-6 inch high, annual or perennial herb that is native to California. Tiny, blue and light purple and tipped with white, the flowers appear in drifts on grassy slopes. The flowers quickly turn to long flat pea pod shaped seed pods, showing up while the plants are still blooming. This charming meadow plant is well worth encouraging.


    Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophilia menziesiiBaby Blue Eyes, Nemophilia menziesii
    This airy mounding annual in the borage family has five petaled true blue petals with white in each center tip forming a white center to the bowl-shaped flower. Low-growing, 6-8 inches tall, Baby Blue Eyes is  is native to California and other areas of the West. These moisture loving plants grow and bloom in early Spring as do Five Spot. *Sown.


    Five spot, Nemophila maculateFive spot, Nemophila maculate
    This annual, similar to baby Blue Eyes is also in the borage family and native to California.
    Same shape and size, it instead has white petals with a navy blue spot on the outside middle edge of each, with faint blue veins in the white of the petals.  The dark spots may have evolved to attract solitary bees.  *Sown.


    California Poppy, Eschscholzia californicaCalifornia Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
    Being both annual, or perennial in mild areas, the California poppy grows from 8-24 inches tall, with silvery-green fern-like foliage topped with four petaled silky orange flowers, easily the most recognized flower in California, if not the United States. The
    most beloved of California wildflowers, the poppy was chosen as the state flower in 1890, beating out the lovely Mariposa lily and the Matilija poppy, two other lovely candidates. It was named by one German botanist after another German botanist early in the 1800s, so apparently was well known outside of its native state for two centuries. Considered invasive in New  Zealand, it grows and self-seeds merrily there, despite unfavorable opinion.  *Sown.


    Four Spot, Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulneraFour Spot, Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera
    These tall, slender clarkia bloom in May with small i inch high cup-shaped flowers, in lavender with a faint darker stripe or spot on each petal. There’s no sign of pink or red in them, although some identify these as Winecups or Winecup Fairyfans. If they show any wine color, they are most likely to be C. purpurea purpurea.


    Farewell to Spring, Clarkia amoenaFarewell to Spring,  Clarkia amoena
     From the Evening Primrose family, this late Spring bloomer indeed signals the end of the season or since it’s also called ‘Herald of Summer.’  These four-petaled flowers, looking like splashy “pink poppies” and as bright as any petunias, are cup-shaped, 2  inches wide and bloom in two tones of pink or reddish pink, appearing in drifts, covering the roadside slopes. Long ago they were hybridized for the most color in Europe and now sent back to us here and sold in big box stores.  *Sown.


    Lindley's Silverpuffs, Uropappus lindleyiLindley’s Silverpuffs, Uropappus lindleyi
    Silverpuffs are a California native, found outside of CA but limited to the Western US. The small narrow flowers, open in the morning and fade in afternoon and turn into globe shaped seed heads. Similar to dandelion’s but from the Aster family, Silverpuffs do have silvery, paper-like scales designed to be seed parachutes.


    Sulphur pea, Lathyrus sulphureus

    Sulphur pea, Lathyrus sulphureus

    Sulphur pea, Lathyrus sulphureus
    With a very distinctive leaf shape, Sulphur pea, Lathyrus sulphureus is a low airy blooming vine, winding through some Bear clover.  The leaves have a very pleasing shape,  pinnate, meaning opposite each other, with sharp points and an almost papery crispness.


    The flowers will remind you of a sweet pea flower, tiny, about the size of a dried white bean.  You can see the ‘pea pods’ forming already.


    True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolorTrue babystars, Linanthus bicolor
    This low growing California native looks like moss, stickery-looking, but soft puffs of foliage with tiny hot pink, star-shaped flowers, one to a puff. It lies flat to the ground and
    forms a neat 6-8 inch mat in open woodland meadows and surrounding areas whether in sun or shade. The flowers are said to be either pink, or white, giving it the name, bicolor, but the tiny flowers here, less than a quarter inch wide, are pink with a yellow throat. Linanthus, means ‘flax flower.’


    Twining Brodiaea Dichelostemma volubileTwining Brodiaea Dichelostemma volubile
    Also called twining snake lily, the reddish-purple vining stem of this Brodiaea  does wind around whatever other plant is nearby. The tall, stiff stem stays about 12-15 inches from the ground.  At the end of the stem is a tightly packed cluster of lavender pink flowers, that will remind you of an onion flower, each tiny bloom about half an inch long and with six petals


    Valley tassels, Castilleja linearilobaValley Tassels, Castilleja lineariloba
    This particular variety of owl’s clover is called Valley Tassels or Thin Lobed Owl’s Clover, Castilleja lineariloba, and grows everywhere in the fields here. Normally there are white bracts, but this rather rare form has rosy tips of the ‘petals’ near the top. This species was ID’d by Mark Egger, an expert in Castilleja, whose name I got from Katie at NatureID.


    More existing native plants here:

    Trees and Shrubs

    Perennials and Grasses

    Existing weeds and non-natives

    Wildlife in the Sierra Foothill Garden

    8 Responses to Ephemerals and Wildflowers

    1. January 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Beautiful pictures!

      • January 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

        Hi, thanks you for your kind comment…glad you enjoyed them.

    2. Susan Daniels
      February 27, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Your photos and descriptions are a valuable aide to any hiking and wildflower enthusiasts.

    3. Susan G
      April 16, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for photos! I was looking to identify a white wildflower on my acreage that looks very similar to the Rose Globe Lily. The white flower globes are about 1 inch in size. There is a single flower plant and behind it a foot or so is another plant with several flowers on it. I didn’t see it on your website but was wondering if there is a white Globe Lily.

      • Sue Langley
        April 16, 2016 at 10:01 pm

        Oh, you are welcome! Yes, there is a White globe lily, Calochortus albus. You can see it blooming now on the banks along the west side of Bass Lake and sometimes there is a single bloom and sometime several.
        I use this site to help identify plants….really good. Calflora http://www.calflora.org/

    4. Susan G.
      May 29, 2017 at 2:33 pm

      I found a couple of ( White) Globe Lilys on our property between Cool and Greenwood. They are absolutely my favorite of the wildflowers. However I have not seen the Rose Globe Lily. Such beautiful little delicate flowers! Thanks for posting all the photos so I can identify the wildflowers, shrubs, trees and grasses.

    5. dennis kimsey
      December 9, 2017 at 7:04 am

      I came onto your site because I was looking for swampy area plants. I think I have a picture of miners cabbage in bloom and wanted to verify it!

      • Sue Langley
        December 9, 2017 at 9:01 am

        Thanks for visiting, Dennis,…hope you were correct about your photo of Miner’s lettuce,… I do find it mostly in the wetter areas thriving thickly, however it also grows out in dry areas, turning reddish when late in its season. I make salads often with it,…it has a mild grassy taste, something between iceberg lettuce and the blades of grass I tasted as a child.

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