After a wild, wet winter, California is covered in color as blooming flowers like poppies, sunflowers, and larkspur blanket landscapes across the state—an event many are labeling as a superbloom.
The term “superbloom” has no actual scientific parameters but is rather a term observers and the media use to describe an explosion of flowers. There’s some debate about what, exactly, quantifies a superbloom; some reserve it to label extremely remarkable events that only occur once every few decades.
Nevertheless, superblooms generally come after intense winter rains following long periods of drought, and the current flowering in California certainly fits that criteria. Some of the blooms are so intense that they are easily visible from space.
“I’m going to say, maybe that’s the threshold,” Naomi Fraga, director of conversation programs at the California Botanic Garden, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If you can see the flowers from space, it’s a superbloom.”
When considering the ecology of Western deserts, superblooms make sense. Years-long droughts can eliminate grasses and weeds that compete for resources with wildflowers. Many species of wildflowers, meanwhile, bank their seeds underground to lie dormant and wait for favorable conditions; after heavy rains, the flowers race to sprout.
“They’re all in the soil seed bank waiting for that year of substantial rain,” Fraga told the Chronicle. “And then they go for it.”
This year’s superbloom comes after an incredibly wet winter in the state, during which California suffered through multiple atmospheric river storms and intense snowfall. While the precipitation has helped replenish water supplies after years of drought, the storms have caused widespread side effects and damage and are a sign of weather “whiplash”—bouncing between extremes—that the West is increasingly experiencing thanks to climate change.
Tourists have been flocking to the flowers since the blooms began. Unfortunately, visitors have caused real problems in the past. In 2019, too many people coming to take photos of flowers at Lake Elsinore destroyed the local ecology, overran the town, and caused the death of one highway patrol officer after he was struck and killed by a car while working overtime to manage visitor traffic.
Click through to see photos of the flowers, including views from space.