Superbloom Season: What's Blooming at the Center and Beyond

Historic rain showers brought plenty of flowers this spring— millions, to be precise.

In times of great rainfall, such as this year, one of California’s most stunning phenomena occurs: the superbloom. Seeds of native wildflowers lie dormant in the dry hillside soil, waiting years until the conditions are right before they spring from the earth. When they finally are, a floral explosion envelops the hills as a supernova of native wildflowers comes into bloom. At the end of the year, once the blooms have died and gone to seed, millions of seeds are scattered across the same dry soil, where they lie waiting for another year wet enough for them to bloom. 

 The definition of a ‘superbloom’ is fairly abstract, as it is not technically a scientific term — after all, it’s quite hard to quantify millions of blooming wildflowers — but was coined in the 90s to describe the iconically Californian phenomenon in which a particularly wet winter triggers the simultaneous flowering of thousands of wildflowers. This year we received a historic amount of rainfall; now, multiple atmospheric rivers later, we are reaping one of the rainy season’s greatest gifts: wildflower-covered hills so vibrant you can see them from outer space (yes, really). 

In Marin, the superbloom has seeped into every open inch of earth, and I’m constantly reminded of the beauty of our native wildflowers. From a handful of California poppies spilling out of cracks in the sidewalk to hillside glens brushed with violet lupines, wildflowers can uplift us, inspire us, and fill us with a sense of wonder. At the Center, we are experiencing a mini superbloom of our own, with blooms in both our native plant garden and throughout the Sanctuary. 

Here are some of the native blooms you can see if you visit the Sanctuary and surrounding headlands this time of year: 

  1. Silver lupine, a favorite of pollinators, has silver foliage and violet spire-shaped blooms.

  2. Yellow bush lupine, a coastal plant that forms mounds of verdant foliage and yellow lupine flowers.

  3. Pacific dogwood, a deciduous tree with flowers that look like they’re palm-sized, but those white “petals” are actually a different part of the plant called bracts; its actual blooms form a miniature mound in the center of the bracts. 

  4. Blue-eyed grass, which is not truly a grass but instead more closely related to irises, is a low-growing plant with small purple-blue flowers.

  5. Hound’s tongue, a plant with large, green, soft-haired leaves once used to treat dog bites and small flowers that are deep blue. 

  6. California poppies, an iconic flower that needs little introduction. Their fiery orange blooms are the California state flower.

  7. And, our favorites from the genus Ceanothus: California lilac, a breathtaking shrub smothered in sky-blue flowers and admired by many plant-lovers, and white-barked lilac, which has white bark and azure blue flowers. 

However, also blooming this time of year are many invasive plants such as French and Scotch broom. With a dense thicket of yellow blooms visible nearly everywhere this time of year, French broom may look like one of the beautiful superbloom wildflower species. But don’t be fooled — French broom blocks out native wildflowers by outcompeting them for precious resources and can actually be a fire hazard! Aggressive invasive plants like brooms pose a threat to our stunning native species and the superblooms that millions of people (and flowers) have come to love. By volunteering at or visiting the Center, you can help safeguard the wildflowers that bring us so much joy and beauty for years to come. 

How you can help, right now