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Orange County bursts with wildflowers

A sea of bush sunflowers above Upper Newport Bay.
A sea of bush sunflowers above Upper Newport Bay.
Jill Replogle
A sea of bush sunflowers above Upper Newport Bay.
A fiddleneck in Upper Newport Bay.
Jill Replogle
A sea of bush sunflowers above Upper Newport Bay.
Parry's phacelia in Upper Newport Bay.
Jill Replogle/KPCC


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The hillsides around the Muth Interpretive Center in the Newport Bay Conservancy are awash in yellow: Bush sunflowers, fiddle necks and black mustard. Silvia Smith and her son Greg were birdwatching and wildflower hunting on a recent, sunny afternoon. 

“The intensity of the colors is just absolutely amazing,” Silvia said.

Greg added the green hills were a stark change from the gray, dry hillsides of recent years. 

“It’s so lush and green and soft," he said. "I mean, the sage, you bump up against it and the fragrances just come right off."

Park rangers say this is shaping up to be the best year for wildflowers in Orange County in nearly a decade. The prolonged drought followed by abundant rain — in some areas on top of former burned areas — are a perfect formula for a fabulous display of wildflowers.

David Raetz, deputy director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, said people can see the most blooms where brush fires tore through, changing the chemical composition of the soil.

“Those actually cause a lot of the flowers to bloom, they need those chemicals for their seeds to germinate,” he said.

Fields of deep orange California poppies, purple Canterbury bells and lupine fill the Orange County backcountry. Raetz said less common flowers, like chocolate lilies, are also starting to pop up. 

“The diversity is extensive and a lot of them are small, but the longer you’re out there, the more you start to notice them," he said. 

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy and Orange County Parks Department have various hikes and other wildfire activities planned for the coming weeks. See letsgooutside.org and ocparks.com.