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2023 Superbloom: Chasing Island Wildflowers

Photo of seaside daises and kayakers at Scorpion Anchorage by Chuck Graham.

After four months of steady, consistent 2022/23 winter rains, anticipation mounts amongst island lovers for an incoming, colorful, vibrant spring. Waterfalls are gushing off sheer cliffs, and side canyons that are typically dry are like vital tributaries breathing life into significant canyons such as Scorpion Canyon on the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island.

Scorpion Canyon empties into Scorpion Anchorage, which is the main hub of the Channel Islands National Park. It’s where Santa Barbara Adventure Company launches our sea cave kayak tours guiding trips through toothy grottos. Those wave-battered caverns and surrounding crags are currently popping with native flora. Giant coreopsis, seaside daisies, and Santa Cruz Island liveforevers are just some of the wildflowers blooming on those Mordor-like cliffs, easily enjoyed from the seat of a kayak.

Giant coreopsis is typically one of the first flowers that bloom on Santa Cruz Island. Usually beginning to bloom in late February or early March. When they are not blooming they look like little dormant trees. Photo by Chuck Graham.

After a kayak tour, there is often enough time for guests to take a quick hike up to Cavern Point Loop, an easy 1.7-mile round-trip ramble to the scenic overlook. Swaying stocks of spindly blue dicks are abundant atop the marine terraces. If time allows, follow the North Bluff Trail out to Potato Harbor to marvel at more coreopsis and bushels of golden yarrow. This 5-mile round-trip hike offers stunning views of the north side of the isle. The fleeting spring bloom thoroughly enhances this jaw-dropping landscape.

The blue dick wildflower has a rich history in California, with its nutritious corms being a vital food source for Chumash Native Americans for over 10,000 years. Photo by Chuck Graham.

However, to experience the most diversity of island wildflower species, walk up Scorpion Canyon past the lower and upper campgrounds. It’s here where visitors will see a vast array of colors. From the moment visitors walk off the pier, island morning glory (a flower that blooms year-round) and California brittlebush brighten the craggy mouth of Scorpion Canyon. Once past the two campgrounds, search for three species of lupine: silver, stinging, and arroyo lupines standing alongside and in the seasonal creek bed.

Silver Lupine is very fragrant. Photo by Chuck Graham.

Continuing up the main creek are liveforevers growing out of cracks in the volcanic rock. Blue dicks are aplenty up the canyon, but there are also some hidden gems such as large flower phacelia and desert-wishbone-bush. The first Santa Cruz Island silver lotuses are beginning to bloom in the back of the canyon. And it’s still early for other native flora. Soon Indian pink, California fuchsia, island buckwheat, Humboldt lilies, and blooming ironwood trees will continue to fill the canyon with a colorful palette.

Santa Cruz Island silver lotus is only found on Santa Cruz Island. Photo by Chuck Graham.

So, after your kayak trip with Santa Barbara Adventure Company, ask your tour guide and they will point you in the right direction for finding spring wildflowers, a bonus after a stellar day on the water around Scorpion Anchorage.

Author, photographer, and kayak guide Chuck Graham

Blog contributed by:
Chuck Graham

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