A Cyclist’s Guide to the Wildflowers of Santa Cruz
Pedaling to petals, it’s almost too good to be true.
Add a little color to your bike ride with this mobile wildflower guide from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. This flower field guide and bike route map will help you on your treasure hunt. Wildflowers can be fleeting so keep these routes on rotation to avoid missing the show!
Wildflower season varies from year-to-year, usually starting in March, picking up in April, and winding down in May. Some of these flowers pop-up early in the season, while others are late bloomers.
COASTAL CRUISING | Easy
This easy route takes you through some of the best wildflower viewing in the heart of town. You might think wildflowers belong in the wild, but with habitat loss such a huge threat to plant diversity, creating space for native plants in our urban areas is more important than ever.
All Trails Route | Distance 7.05 mi | Elevation Gain 203 ft
This route cuts through town and along the coast, starting at Arana Gulch, then heading to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and ending at the UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus. Then double back and see if you missed anything!
Santa Cruz Tarplant (Holocarpha macradenia)
Location: Arana Gulch
This rare and endangered plant endemic to Northern California is the reason we have Arana Gulch Open Space. The City manages the park in a way that promotes the success of this species. Adapted for disturbance historically common in coastal prairies, cows graze the landscape much like megafauna used to thousands of years ago.
Photo from Friends of Arana Gulch.
California Poppy Maritime Variety (Eschscholzia californica var. maritima)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
The Garden Learning Center at the Museum features several habitats. The front garden is a coastal prairie featuring our local variety of California poppy in abundance! Our maritime variety has a darker center with light edges, whereas the standard poppy is more orange throughout.
California Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
These bright, shiny yellow flowers often bloom earlier than many other species, and will go to seed and return to a dormant state by early summer. Buttercups can be a nice source of nutrition and can be toasted or ground up and added to baked goods.
Common Self Heal (Prunella vulgarus)
Location: Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
In addition to attracting pollinators, this edible plant has long been used as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including sore throats and muscle aches. Some of its other common names include heal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter’s herb, and brownwort.
Gumplant (Grindelia stricta)
Location: UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus
In the early stages of blooming, the head of this yellow aster produces copious white exudate (i.e. goo). Indigenous cultures have traditionally used this exudate as an adhesive.
Western Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)
Location: UC Santa Cruz Coastal Science Campus
Actually a member of the iris plant family, blue-eyed grass produces deep purple flowers in late winter and early spring. The genus name means “pig snout”, referencing the sweet roots that were dug up by pigs in their native grasslands.
MEADOW MILES | Moderate
Sometimes you have to work a little for flowers, especially the really good ones. This route has you summiting one of our biggest in-town hills by biking up Bay St. towards campus. Part of the UC Santa Cruz Campus Natural Reserves, Mima Meadow is a coastal prairie featuring geologically interesting mima mounds and some of our most sought after flowers.
All Trails Route | Distance 5.71 mi | Elevation Gain 427′
This route has you starting at the coast side of Bay St., taking it all the way to the top, then turning left on High St. and continuing on Empire Grade until you reach the closed gate to Mima Meadow on your left (just past the Arboretum). To get into the Meadow, you will need to use the steps in the fence at the fire road. Either lock your bike up at the Arboretum across the street, along the fence, or walk with it along the trails.
From here you can look down on your starting location along the Monterey Bay as you walk the trails. Stop by the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum and Neary Lagoon on your way back!
Monterey Mariposa Lily (Calochortus uniflorus)
The genus Calochortus contains some of our region’s most sought-after flowers. This rare species has grass-like leaves and upright flowers shaped like a bowl, which bees often rest in. Featured here is a longhorn bee (Melissodes sp.)
Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus)
Another member of the Calochortus genus, this California endemic flower is more widespread than C. uniflorus, but can still require a bit of a hunt. Conveniently, this species pops-up right near the gate to Mima Meadow. Turn right on the first trail you see and make sure you don’t discount every bright, big flower as a poppy!
White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)
Also known as fool’s onion, this plant has an edible bulb, though it lacks the familiar onion smell.
Harlequin Lotus (Hosackia gracilis)
This rare plant belongs to the pea family and is unlike any plant you’re likely to find with its mix of sherbet colors. It’s thought to be a larval food plant of the Federally Endangered lotis blue butterfly (Lycaeides argyrognomon lotis).
Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
Our region hosts many types of lupines and they can be challenging to tell apart. Even when not in bloom you can identify a lupine by its palmate leaves (five fingered like a hand).
Golden Brodiaea (Triteleia ixioides subsp. ixioides)
This cheerful yellow flower is in the same genus as the white broadiaea and also grows from a bulb.
BONNY DOOM | Strenuous
The Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve is a spectacular location for exploring nature. An example of the rare Santa Cruz sandhills habitat, the soil is comprised of ancient seabed deposits and is very nutrient poor. For that reason, highly specialized plants grow here and nowhere else. It also burned partially in the CZU Lightning Complex fires, as well as during the Martin Fire of 2008.
All Trails Route | Distance 24.85 mi | Elevation Gain 2,612 ft
From Mima Meadow, continue on Empire Grade. Turn left onto Smith Grade. You’ll meander through parts of the CZU Lightning Complex Burn Zone before reaching Bonny Doon Rd. Turn right and continue onto Pine Flat Rd. before taking a slight right onto Martin Rd. You’ll know you’re getting close when the habitat changes drastically, the sky opening up above you. Bike locking is a challenge, but you also don’t want to bring your bike along these trails.
When you’re done, double back down Bonny Doon Road to Highway 1 and take that back to the Coastal Science Campus for a relaxing view.
Ben Lomond Spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. hartwegiana)
You really have to see this flower in person to understand just how tiny it is. This rare member of the buckwheat family is found only in our local Santa Cruz sandhills habitat. You don’t have to travel far along the trail to find dense mats of this flower when in bloom.
Bush Poppy (Dendromecon rigida)
This shrub offers a pop of color to the Reserve when in bloom and can reach many feet high.
Ben Lomond Buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum var. decurrens)
Belonging to the same family as the spineflower, this variety of naked buckwheat is also rare and endemic to the Santa Cruz sandhills. Its leaves form dense basal rosettes and the tiny flowers sit atop long spindly stems.
WILDERIN’ OUT | Mountain Biking
For those who prefer dirt to pavement, there’s great wildflower peeping along the trails of Wilder Ranch State Park. There’s not a bad trail for finding flowers, but this simple route takes you straight up towards the top of the park, passing through some of the best coastal prairie grasslands in the County. On the way back you’ll pass through redwood forest and woodland habitats.
All Trails Route | Distance 11.75 mi | Elevation Gain 1,286 ft
This route takes you along the coastal bike path past invasive plants like wild radish, marigold, acacia, and french broom. When you get to the end of the trail, turn right and head up! You’ll take Engelman’s Loop to Long Meadow Trail, then double back and take the Wild Boar Trail for a change of scene and some fun twists and turns.
Common Fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii)
These early bloomers with their charmingly twisted tops will pop-up in droves. As the plant grows, the stem uncoils, and new flowers emerge, while the old flowers develop into seed pods along the lower part of the stem.
Western Heart’s Ease (Viola ocellata)
Wilder Ranch has a handful of native violets, ranging in colors from white to yellow. These are often found in the transitional zones from meadow to chaparral to redwood forest.
Fairy Lantern (Calochortus albus)
Another stunner from the genus Calochortus, this species has a different stature than C. uniflorus and C. luteus. Rather than a bowl shape, this species has flowers that drop like little lanterns. Find it on the edges of grassland and woodland habitats.
Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta)
This species belongs to the genus Castilleja, which includes Indian paintbrushes. Like other related plants in the family, this is a hemiparasite which derives some of its nutrients directly from the roots of other plants.
Fremont’s Deathcamas (Toxicoscordion fremontii)
This perennial plant grows back year after year from bulbs underground. It’s referred to as deathcamas because all parts of the plant contain a toxic alkaloid that some consider more potent than strychnine.
There are so many more wildflowers to see in Santa Cruz than are included here. If you find something you don’t recognize, consider taking its picture and uploading it to iNaturalist. The app will suggest potential species and your observations will be recorded as biodiversity data, helping us better understand our natural world.
These routes traverse the traditional and unceded territories of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi and Cotoni tribes. Today these lands are stewarded by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band who are working hard to fulfill their obligation to Creator to care for and steward Mother Earth and all living things through relearning efforts and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.
This guide was created in honor of Bike Month (May 2021) in partnership with Ecology Action. Learn more.
Did you know that the Simpkins Swim Center is the former site of a cement plant that manufactured the cement tetrapods used in the harbor jetty? In the back of their parking lot is access to a short set of trails managed by Twin Lakes State Park. These trails meander through sunny meadows and shady oaks and lead to views of the Pacific Ocean and Schwan Lake.
History of Schwan Lake
Schwan Lake was once a lagoon that connected to the ocean and is named after Jacob Schwan, an immigrant from Germany who owned and farmed on the land in the 1860s. In the 1880s the lagoon had bridges and a railroad trestle crossing over it. After the construction of East Cliff Drive in the 1930s the lagoon was blocked from the ocean. This caused it to seasonally dry up and become very smelly. In 1977 a weir gate was installed so now the lagoon is a lake and never dries up! A weir gate is like a dam but it allows water to flow over the top of it once the lake reaches a certain water level.
This recipe is part of our series On the Rocks: Exploring Science and Nature through Curated Cocktails.
The vernal equinox marks one of two moments per year when the sun is exactly above the equator and day and night are of equal length. This means that we exit the days of mostly darkness and enter a time of increasing light.
Spring is traditionally a season of transition and new birth: snow melts, seeds grow, and blossoms bloom. This year, the vernal equinox that marks the beginning of spring also represents one year since we began sheltering-in-place. Four seasons have passed and our community has experienced the ebb and flow of the pandemic in tandem with the natural cycles of the Earth.
As we prepare for this next transition, welcoming new growth in fire scarred areas and fresh nectar in our gardens, we also look forward to our own revitalization. The Museum is excited to reopen our doors this spring and host more programs outdoors and in nature than ever before. But we continue to straddle the line of branching out and keeping shelter as our community continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to in-person opportunities, we will continue to offer virtual resources that bring the Museum to you.
And it is with this period of transition in mind that we bring you the Equinox Elixir: a curated cocktail that is equal parts dark and light. We used gin from Venus Spirits for this recipe, a local distillery that sponsored an event we were meant to host last year for the equinox, but had to cancel in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Today, we toast them and you as we prepare for brighter days ahead.
- 1.5 oz of Venus Gin No. 01
- 1.5 oz of cherry syrup (such as from a jar of Luxardo cherries)
A layered cocktail utilizes liqueurs of slightly different densities to create visual layers in the drink, with the specific gravity of the liquid ingredients increasing from top to bottom. Water has a specific gravity of 1.0, whereas our thick syrup has a specific gravity of 1.8 and our gin is around .95.
Pour your ingredient with the higher specific gravity first (i.e. cherry syrup) into a martini glass, taking care to pour straight down the center so that the syrup doesn’t coat the walls of the glass where you don’t want it to. Then, shake your gin with an ice cub in a cocktail shaker vigorously for a few seconds. Turn a tablespoon upside down and place it just over the glass. Slowly pour the gin over the spoon so that it slowly spills into the glass without mixing with the syrup.
Marvel at its dichotomy and then give it a stir to mix the flavors together and enjoy!
Resources for further exploring the equinox
- EarthSky’s explanation of the Equinox
- More on our March constellations
- “Online Planetariums” that let you choose date, time, and location
- A poem from Mary Oliver about Winter
- A poem from Mary Oliver about Spring
Post by Marisa Gomez
There are few names in our local naturalist community that are as universally revered as that of Randall Morgan. Also known as Randy or R, Morgan was a pillar of the local natural history community.
Though he passed away a few years ago, his influence on the natural world and those who celebrate it in Santa Cruz is evident from the the Sandhills that his activism helped to save, to the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society that he helped found, to the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History where he worked as a taxidermist to pay for studying linguistics at UC Santa Cruz. His legacy also lives on in the collections of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History.
Join Kathleen Aston, Collections Manager at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, and Chris Lay, Director of the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, for an exploration of Randall Morgans life and legacy, including his collections, taxidermy, and conservation efforts.
This month’s Collections Close-Up is in sponsorship of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire., celebrating the naturalists of Santa Cruz County. It is presented in partnership between the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.
Resources for further exploration
- Collections Close-Up blog about the Museums herbarium featuring grasses collected by Morgan
- A memorial for Randall Morgan from the Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society
- Biography of Randall Morgan
- Randall Morgans collections at the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History
- The Santa Cruz County Naturalists exhibit, Look. Act. Inspire.
This program is part of a series in support of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire. and is presented in partnership between:
We’re celebrating 33 years of exhibiting science illustration at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History with an online opening reception for this year’s The Art of Nature.
Featuring staff exhibit curators Liz Broughton (Visitor Services Manager), Marisa Gomez (Public Programs Manager), and Felicia Van Stolk (Executive Director), as well as artists Sami Chang and Megan Gnekow (artist curator).
Geology literally means the study of the Earth, so why are we digging into the Moon for this month’s Rockin’ Pop-Up? Well, as the Geology Gents put it, “The moon is basically the Earth.” Say what? Don’t worry, all will be revealed. This month, learn about the formation of our moon and how scientists study it.
About the Series: Join the Geology Gents, Gavin and Graham, for monthly conversations about rocks live on Facebook. Each month we’ll explore a different geologic topic, from Santa Cruz formations to tips for being a more effective rockhound. Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione are PhD candidates in geochronology with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz.
Submit your questions ahead of time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to include pictures of rocks you’d like identified! Note: you do not need to have a Facebook account to be able to watch the program live.
The area impacted by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires hosts a slew of rare plants. As we enter spring, the season of new growth, botanists will be paying close attention to these rare plants, but they’re not the only ones. A “community scientist” is anyone who makes and shares observations in an effort to contribute to scientific understanding — and we hope you will help us bring community science to the burn zone.
During this online training with Amy Patten, Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Manager for the California Native Plant Society, you’ll learn how you can search for and document rare plants as a community science volunteer. We’ll go over some of the fascinating and beautiful rare plants you can see in the burn area, as well as online tools you can use for survey efforts as part of the CZU Lightning Complex and Community Science Project.
About the Speaker
Amy Patten works in the Rare Plant Program at the California Native Plant Society’s state office where she manages the Rare Plant Treasure Hunt project, a community science project that documents rare plant populations throughout California. Amy lives in Santa Cruz and is passionate about protecting the plants and wildlife of the Central Coast.
In this edition of Rock Record, the Geology Gents unearth a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires.
By Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione (aka the Geology Gents)
To reconstruct Earth history, geologists rely on the rock record: the accumulated rocks that, through their accumulation and formation, are relics of ancient geologic processes spanning geologic history. Such rocks provide a spyglass with which to peer into geologic history. But our view through this spyglass is limited to rocks that are both exposed at the Earth’s surface and have survived the effects of erosion.
As geologists, we often rely on Earth processes to expose new rocks and provide us fresh glimpses into Earth’s history. Since exposing fresh rock requires a lot of energy, natural disasters or extreme natural events can expose clues to this history through fresh rock surfaces. Human activities, such as construction or mining, can also expose new geological wonders.
In this edition of Rock Record, we’ll go through a few key examples of how newly exposed outcrops have led to important geological insights, as well as some geologic exploration into some freshly exposed rock and sediments exposed by the CZU Complex Fire.
The construction of roads often requires the removal of large sections of rock, leaving sheer rock faces on the sides of the road. Some of the most famous rock outcrops are ones exposed in roadcuts and these unique locations are a frequent destination for college geology classes.
As undergraduates, the Gents (i.e. Gavin and Graham) explored roadcuts in the Northeastern US, and learned about tectonic motion through the faults and folds exposed in roadcuts (like the one in the image to the right), about metamorphic rocks via roadcuts in Maine, and about large deep-sea sediment avalanches (called turbidites) from roadcuts in upstate New York. Rocks exposed on the sides of roads can also be significant for geologist’s understanding of the sequence of events in an area.
For instance, a roadcut in Owens valley (see image below), settled a longstanding debate amongst geologists about whether the Bishop Tuff was deposited before or after the first glaciations in the area. The exposed rock showed the Bishop Tuff sitting on top of the Sherwin Till glacial deposit, meaning that the tuff must have been deposited after the till.
Forest fires are, in many cases, an important natural event for the health of a forest because they clear the forest floor of brush and dead vegetation. Through this process, fires also expose large portions of rock that would otherwise not be visible. For this addition of Rock Record, the Gents explored some areas of the Santa Cruz mountains that have been burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires last August.
Taking Empire Grade North, areas of Cretaceous (145-66 million years before present) igneous and metamorphic rocks that were previously covered by vegetation are exposed in the burn zone of the recent fires.
Sometimes extreme weather events can expose new outcrops or geologic features. For instance, the Frijoles Fault of a previous Rock Record post, The Faults that Shape Santa Cruz, was hidden behind trees and shrubs until a powerful storm event in the 1970s drove enough coastal erosion to expose the fault in the sea cliffs. Even more recently, heavy rains can cause landslides on the steep topography of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur. Each of these landslides exposes new surfaces that allow geologists and geomorphologists to study what causes landslides and the ways that massive amounts of Earth can be rapidly moved down hillslopes.
Some rocks are truly out of this world! Rocks that formed beyond Earth and arrive on Earth are called meteorites. Most meteorites come from the asteroid belt, a ring of rocky debris that dwells between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, while some meteorites come from Mars and the Moon. As any Earth dweller knows, meteorites are incredibly rare, but they are important samples of other celestial bodies and leftovers from planet formation that we can study in close detail here on Earth. So, a meteorite fall is an incredibly exciting event for planetary scientists and geologists, alike!
One of the most important meteorites ever to land on Earth was the Allende meteorite, which landed in 1969 near the town of Pueblito de Allende in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico. The stone broke into pieces before it landed on Earth, but the collected chunks of this meteorite total >4,000 pounds with more pieces still found today! Because there was so much meteorite to go around, many scientists have studied it, and since the Allende meteorite is made of some of the most ancient material in our solar system it has provided an invaluable window into the earliest moments of our solar system just after the Sun formed!
What mysteries do you suppose are hiding all around you, covered by trees, houses, or soil?
Rock Record is a monthly blog featuring musings on the mineral world from Gavin Piccione and Graham Edwards.
Graham Edwards and Gavin Piccione are PhD candidates in geochronology with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. They also host our monthly Rockin’ Pop-Ups as “The Geology Gents”.
What kind of thinking goes into the design of a natural history exhibit? Over the course of three lessons, students deepen their observation-making abilities, learn about how to properly collect natural specimens, and create their own miniature museum exhibit. This project-based sequence will teach students how to interpret their findings and distinguish natural objects from one another based on their physical properties.