The best time to see wildflowers near Los Angeles is spring. That’s when all the stunning colors come out covering roadways, hills and coastal paths.
Whether you love brightly colored California poppies or you prefer the subtle purple of Douglas iris, Orange County is the perfect place to find a large variety of wildflowers.
In this guide, we explore the 12 best Orange County wildflowers to spot on your next adventure in California.
1. California Poppy
True to their name, California poppies are one of the most popular wildflower species in California. You can find them growing almost everywhere in the state, including Orange County.
There are even nature reserves and parks dedicated to the preservation of these bright orange flowers. But they don’t just look beautiful. California poppies also have a strong, pleasant fragrance that you can spot from some distance.
Also known as golden poppies, these wild plants have vibrant, orange flower heads that attract different bees and butterflies. California poppies are annual or perennial plants that can grow up to 30 cm in height.
While they aren’t very tall, they can cover a lot of ground with their dark blue-green foliage.
Part of the aster family, coreopsis is a bright yellow flower with a deep, dark red center. There are over 80 different species of coreopsis. Some coreopsis species also grow wild in Orange County.
In fact, you can find this pretty California wildflower mostly in North America and South America. Coreopsis is also known commonly as tickseed. However, this is also a term used for many other aster species.
These plants produce flowers in early summer and they continue to bloom until the first frost sets in. In warmer climates, coreopsis may bloom all year round.
Similar to poppies, coreopsis is self-seeding which means that it can cover a large area over a short time. This makes this lovely wildflower an invasive species.
3. Desert Dandelion
Desert dandelion thrives in hot and dry climates, such as the plains and desert washes of Northern Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. The bright yellow flowers bloom from early spring until early summer.
Each plant has multiple flower heads that create a dense flower bed. Just as you might expect, desert dandelion is part of the sunflower family, although this species doesn’t grow as tall as a traditional sunflower.
But what makes desert dandelion plants so unusual is that they create large patches of golden color across the desert floor.
4. Tidy Tips
Tidy tips wildflowers are annual succulents that grow in and around Orange County. They are easily recognizable by their colorful flowers showing a yellow center with white tips.
Layia platyglossa produce blooms between March and July which gives you plenty of time to find these beautiful wild plants on your next Orange County adventure.
Tidy tips are popular with gardeners and landscapers as they attract local pollinators, such as bumblebees and butterflies. Birds also feed on the plant’s seeds.
5. Douglas Iris
Douglas iris has beautiful, purple-blue flowers that appear between February and June. Similar to other iris species, this wildflower thrives near water, wetlands and marshes.
This means that you can find it most commonly near the coast and under an elevation of 100 m. In the past, the petals of Douglas iris were used by Indigenous communities across the state to weave rope and fishing nets.
But this plant is not just pretty. It also has a reputation as a herbal medicine and diuretic soothing digestive upsets.
6. Golden Yarrow
Golden yarrow can grow the size of a small shrub. With its bright, golden flowers, it is easily recognizable on a walk. This wildflower can be either a perennial or an annual. Native to California, golden yarrow grows in large strands or clumps with tall stems.
At the top of the stem, there is a large, yellow flower cluster that is typically made up of up to 30 small flower heads and florets. Golden yarrow has a long growing season because it grows during the winter and spring months until the first frosts in the fall.
While this yellow wildflower is relatively tolerant to cold, it can struggle to bloom in extreme heat.
7. California Hummingbird Sage
Hummingbird sage is a plant native to California. It has woody stems with upright flowering heads. As part of the mint family, this lovely wildflower has a strong fragrance. Flowers appear on the hummingbird sage between March and May.
The flowers have a purple-rose color that’s easy to spot on a hiking tour. This Californian sage thrives anywhere between sea level and up to 2,000 feet elevation.
While you can find it out in the wild, its pleasant scent and stunning colors also make it a popular garden plant. Out in the wild, hummingbird sage grows near the coast and on shady slopes around woodlands.
You can find it in many oak woodlands close to the Pacific Ocean. With up to 1.5m in height, this California wildflower is tall and impressive. Its flower heads make up almost a third of the entire plant.
This being said, hummingbird sage can spread easily through rhizomes, so you can usually find it in groups.
8. Stinging Lupine
Part of the legume family, the stinging lupine is native to the coastal mountains in California. It spreads from Orange County to San Francisco Bay. Lupinus hirsutissimus is an annual shrub that can grow up to one meter in height.
This being said lupines can also grow taller if they are threatened by wildfires. As its name suggests, this lupine species is covered in long hairs that prick your skin if you try to touch the plant.
What makes the stinging lupine wonderful is that you can see it through the winter and spring months in Orange County. The vibrant, purple flower clusters stand out from many other wildflowers.
These plants grow in rocky slopes and coastal areas where they can get the well-drained soil they need to thrive.
9. California Peony
Also known as wild peony, the California peony is one of the two Peony species that is Native to North America. It is especially widespread in California. These large wildflower shrubs thrive on coastal mountains or dry hillsides.
You can often find California peony plants grouped with other shrubby plants. While this wildflower isn’t difficult to find in the wild, it is rarely used in gardens because it requires specific growing conditions.
California peonies go through a dry summer dormancy when these plants don’t grow at all. This is the reason why their key flower seasons are in winter and spring. The large flowers can be any shade between dark red and deep purple.
10. California Hedge Nettle
As part of the mint family California hedge nettle prefers the coastal areas of Orange County and the Bay Area. Despite its name, this wildflower doesn’t actually grow in hedges. In fact, it thrives in boggy, swampy and wet regions.
This wildflower also enjoys damp and shaded areas. However, California hedge nettle struggles with water-clogged soil and drought. Unlike true nettles, hedgenettle doesn’t sting like true nettles.
However, Stachys bullata produces similar purple flowers that grow in some clusters along the stems. This purple wildflower in California spreads quickly across any area where it finds suitable growing conditions, although it is relatively easy to control.
However, the real beauty of this charming wildflower only reveals itself when you look at it closely. Then you will notice that the flower petals have an unusual pattern.
11. Purple Clarkia
Part of the evening primrose family, purple clarkia is known under many names, including winecup clarkia and winecup fairyfan. Native to the whole of Noth America, purple clarkia thrives in a variety of different habitats.
You can find it across California along the coast as well as the Sierra foothills. There are a number of different clarkia species which feature a thin stem and flowers in shades of pink, purple or red.
Purple clarkia is common in wildflower seed mixes but these annual herbs also grow widely in the wild. They produce flowers during the warm spring and summer months.
12. Yellow Stem Bush Mallow
You can find a great number of different mallow plants around Orange County but the yellow stem bush mallow is one of the most beautiful. Native to Southern California, this shrub has slim stems that can grow up to two meters tall.
True to their name, the dense, little hairs on the stem make them look yellow. This pretty mallow plant produces a lot of pink flowers during the spring and early summer.
While it looks beautiful, yellow stem bush mallow is an extremely tough plant that can withstand high temperatures and drought. You can find it growing on gentle slopes where the soil drains well.
Orange County has so much to offer when it comes to wildlife. Take your boots and go on a hiking tour exploring our 12 best Orange County wildflowers to spot on your next adventure.