California has a wonderful variety of wildlife, including bright purple wildflowers. But they are not always easy to spot. Some purple flowers growing along the coast and inland in California appear only during the spring or summer.
In this practical guide, we discover the 13 best purple wildflowers that you can spot on your next California adventure.
1. Purple Coneflower
Also known as Eastern Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea is one of the most common purple wildflowers in California, and across the USA. You can find this perennial wildflower in USDA hardiness zones 2a to 10b.
Purple coneflowers bloom in summer and fall. That’s when their bright purple is at its most beautiful. Purple coneflowers are relatively easy to grow because they are extremely hardy. Plus, the beautiful flowers add a dash of color to your backyard.
Purple coneflower, also called Echinacea, is also well known as a herbal medicine supporting the immune system and treating respiratory conditions.
2. Bull Thistle
Bull thistles are known under a number of different names, including spear thistle, dodder, common thistle or boar thistle. Cirsium vulgare is a common purple wildflower in California.
This biennial plant can grow up to 1.8m tall and it flowers during summer and fall. This spiky wildflower thrives in full sun and partial shade. The large flower heads are ideal for attracting butterflies and large bees.
Birds, like the American goldfinch, also like the seeds of this purple thistle. This being said, they also use some of the thistledown to cover their nests.
3. Common Burdock
If you are looking for another spiky plant with purple flowers in California, burdock is commonly found in sunny or partially shaded areas.
Also known as wild rhubarb, cuckoo button, louse bur, little burdock or lesser burdock, Arctium minus grows up to 180cm tall. This large, shrubby wildflower starts to bloom in mid-summer and continues to grow purple flowers until mid-fall.
This purple biennial wildflower is home in undisturbed areas, open prairies, roadsides, barnyards, hay fields, pastures and old fields where it can thrive.
Although burdock has purple flowers, the first thing you notice about this shrubby plant is its large leaves that look more like rhubarb. If you dry the burdock seed head, it behaves in a similar way to velcro. They can stick to animals and humans.
This allows the plant to spread its seed. Similar to the California thistle, common burdock plants also attract a variety of birds, butterflies and bees that enjoy the nectar of the plant.
Alfalfa is a beautifully bright, purple flower that grows across California. Also called Lucerne, this perennial wildflower can grow up to 90cm if it gets full sun.
With its many sunny days throughout the year, California offers the best conditions for this fantastic plant. This means that alfalfa can bloom in spring, summer and fall.
Despite its pretty color, Medicago sativa is commonly used as a food crop for farm animals. You can also grow alfalfa in your backyard where it attracts birds, butterflies and small insects.
5. Clasping Venus’ Looking Glass
Also known as clasping bellflower or roundleaf triodanis, this lovely purple wildflower can grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 11. With the right conditions in full sun, this annual wildflower can grow up to 91cm tall. It blooms in spring and summer.
Triodanis perfoliata commonly grows in habitats that offer dry, sandy soils, including woofs, gardens and undisturbed areas near the coast. As a self-pollinating plant, clasping Venus’ looking glass is popular with small birds and large bees.
6. Dame’s Rocket
Dame’s rocket wildflowers have a number of different names, from sweet rocket and summer lilac to Dame’s gilliflower and Damask violet. Hesperis matronalis can grow up to 122cm tall and it blooms between early and mid-spring.
This biennial wildflower thrives in full sun to partial shade. You can commonly find it in woodlands and meadows across California. Some wildflower seed mixes also include this delightful purple flower.
Dame’s rocket grows extremely fast and it can spread quickly. That’s why it is often considered invasive. This being said, this purple California wildflower contains plenty of vitamin C, so you can enjoy it in your favorite salad.
7. Smooth Blue Aster
Despite its name, the flowers of the smooth blue aster have shades of blue and purple. Also known as Michaelmas daisy, this perennial plant blooms in summer and fall. In full and partial sun, it can grow up to 90cm tall.
You can find this purple wildflower in meadows, hillsides and planes across California. The smooth blue aster flowers have small hairs similar to dandelions. This helps the seed to fly into the air and spread.
8. Spotted Knapweed
Also called panicled knapweed, spotted knapweed is easy to find as it grows in open fields and by the roadside throughout California. Centaurea stoebe is a biennial wildflower that grows between 60cm and 90cm tall.
In full sun, it blooms with bright purple flowers during summer and fall. With its fast-growing pace, spotted knapweed is often believed to be a weed. Plus, this pretty wildflower can also change the soil conditions which stops other plants from growing in this area.
9. Winter Vetch
Winter vetch is a popular California purple wildflower species that can thrive in full shade and partial shade. Vicia villosa grows up to 91cm and it produces vibrant purple flowers during summer and fall.
Also known as hair vetch or fodder vetch, this purple wildflower can be annual, biennial or perennial. Winter vetch has the ability to release nitrogen into the soil which stops weeds from growing.
This makes it the perfect companion plant for tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables.
In the wild, you can find winter vetch on roadsides, old fields, grasslands, forests and meadows. As this plant is a fast-growing wildflower, it is often considered an invasive plant.
10. Bee Balm
Also commonly called horsemint or wild bergamot, wild bee balm plants only bloom during the summer months. These wildflowers only thrive in sunny or partially shady habitats.
They are easy to spot thanks to the clusters of lilac-purple flowers. Monarda fistulosa typically grows along roads, prairies or dry fields throughout California.
As this wildflower grows during the busiest time of year for bees, these plants attract a variety of bee species, as well as butterflies and even hummingbirds. In fact, purple bee balm flowers are so rich in nectar that a range of birds enjoy visiting these plants.
Plus, bee balm also has plenty of health benefits. You can make a tasty tea with bee balm that supports your immune system. Bee balm wildflowers also help to ward off the flu. You can use it in a steaming inhalation to clear your nasal passages.
11. Purple Loosestrife
Purple loosestrife is sometimes also called purple Lythrum, hinting at its vibrant purple flowers. Lythrum salicaria only thrives in full sun during the summer. That’s when it can grow between 60cm and 150cm tall.
This perennial wildflower happily grows in slightly wetter soils, including marshes, wet meadows and ditches. You can also find purple loosestrife wildflowers along various lakes throughout California.
This beautiful plant is considered a weed because it spreads fast across the ground, pushing out native plants in surrounding areas. Purple loosestrife can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds during the growing season.
This allows it to spread so fast. This being said, the striking purple color makes it a stunning flower to enjoy on your next Californian adventure.
12. Hookedspur Violet
Also known as Western dog violet or sand violet, hookedspur violet can grow in partially shady or sunny habitats. Viola adunca starts producing purple flowers in mid-spring and it continues to bloom until early summer.
This perennial plant commonly grows in mountainous areas across California. However, it can also thrive in lower elevations. Violets are common spring flowers and they can cover a lot of ground.
This makes them easy to spot on your hiking adventures in California. You may also notice a lot of ants around where these violets grow because the plants produce a special oil that attracts these small insects.
13. Purple False Foxglove
Often known as purple gerardia, purple false foxglove can grow up to 91cm in USDA hardiness zones 2a to 10b. Agalinis purpurea is an annual wildflower that blooms during the summer and fall months, provided it gets full sun conditions.
Purple false foxglove plants produce vibrant purple blooms that you can see all over California. It thrives in sandy soils near the coast. This being said purple false foxglove is a semi-parasitic plant that gains nutrients from shrubs and other plants nearby.
You can often find it growing near sweetgum trees, sycamore, loblolly pines and native grasses. While this type of foxglove never kills its host, finding any of these host plants can also lead you to spot purple gerardia nearby.
Now it is time for you to explore our 13 best purple wildflowers in California on your next trip out into the wild.