Early Spring Wildflowers to Welcome

May 10, 2022
It's the season for early spring wildflowers! Here are five flowers to spot.

By Sarah Mowry

Spring in the high desert is a mercurial thing: sun and warm temperatures one day followed by snow and sleet the next. The only sure sign that spring is really here is the arrival of wildflowers! Central Oregon, with its deserts and high mountain meadows, is chock full of wildflowers and a nice long season (March-August) to explore them all.

March and April are the season for early spring wildflowers—those first bursts of color that dot the landscape. Look for these in our sagebrush grasslands where the snow melts first and the soil has warmed enough to encourage new growth. At first glance it may not seem like there is much blooming, early spring is the season for small (think dime-sized or smaller) flowers rather than the showy, large blooms (like balsamroot) that come with late spring and summer. But look carefully, and be rewarded with tiny pops of color that shout spring and bring smiles to faces. Here are five early spring flowers to keep an eye out for this season:

 

Goldfields. Photo: Joan Amero.

 Goldfields. Photo: Joan Amero.

 

Goldfields, Crocidium multicaule

One of our very first wildflowers of the season, they are a sign that spring has arrived! You’ll find these dime-sized flowers carpeting sagebrush flats. In particularly good wildflower seasons, that's no exaggeration--they truly carpet the ground. Goldfields have a single yellow flower with 8 rays 1/4-1/2” long on a delicate stem up to 6” tall.

Yellow bell. Photo: Land Trust.

 Yellow bell. Photo: Land Trust.

 

Yellow bell, Frittillaria pudica

A beautiful yellow, pendant-shaped lily that can be found in grasslands to pine forest. Yellow bell flowers are 7/8” long and can be yellow to brownish-orange. Leaves are grasslike. Yellow bells typically emerge after goldfields have already arrived.

Prarie star. Photo: John Williams.

 Prairie star. Photo: John Williams.

 

 

Prairie star, Lithophragma parviflorum

Reminding us that nature is fragile, this early bloomer has a delicate, white to lavender-pink, irregular flower atop a slender red stem. Prairie stars are found in sagebrush flats to pine forests. Flowers have 5 petals that are 1/4” long atop a 4-12” tall stem.

 

 

Spreading phlox. Photo: Land Trust.

Spreading phlox. Photo: Land Trust.

 

Spreading phlox, Phlox diffusa

This low-growing flower prefers rocky crevices and exposed locations. These beauties always astound with their pop of color--flowers have 5 pink-purple-white petals. Adapted to extreme environments, cushion-like plants like phlox often have taproots 8-15’ deep!

Sagebrush buttercup. Photo: Gary Miller.

 Sagebrush buttercup. Photo: Gary Miller.

Sagebrush buttercup, Ranunculus glaberrimus

This is another one of the first wildflowers of the season. These yellow flowers can turn white as they age. They are found in sagebrush flats to pine forests. The flowers have 5 petals that are 1/2” long atop a single stem. Petals are glossy, often looking wet with dew.

 


Come May the wildflowers start to get bolder. Dime-size flowers give way to half-dollar ones: sand lilies, larkspur, buckwheat. Then, we can revel in the showy guys that will signal the arrival of summer: lupine, balsamroot, and paintbrush. Now is the time to get out and soak in these blooms! These tiny little yellows, pinks, and purples will only last for so long.


This story first appeared in the Source Weekly.

 

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