Nowhere is nature’s “Yay!” more apparent than a good display of wildflowers. Seeds are splitting, shoots are shooting, buds are unfolding to show the colorful petals they’ve concealed. It’s happening everywhere from your back yard and your neighborhood to national parks and foreign forests, plains, hillsides and tropical jungles.
Some destinations and stretches of land bloom with such awesome endlessness and ferocity of color that they’ve created a tourist industry of their own; there are festivals, walking tours, driving routes and guidebooks about them. Others are less well known, or more remote, or small but still precious repositories of native flowering species.
Over the years, as habitat has dwindled and pollinating species have declined in numbers, wildflowers have been squeezed out and endangered. At the same time — maybe after a bit of a lag — groups across the country and the world have formed to protect and propagate species. Garden clubs and other organizations have invested major efforts to beautify roadways by planting wildflowers along their shoulders — nowadays some roads, such as Skyline Drive in Virginia and U.S. 65 in the Florida Panhandle, have become official or unofficial wildflower-viewing routes.
“When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.”
—Dolly Parton, “Wildflowers”
You can find wildflowers anywhere, really: pushing through a crack in a parking lot or clinging to a wind-whipped mountaintop. Still, there are places where wildflowers bloom more showily in habitats around the world.
We’ve gathered some of the top wildflower destinations from a variety of sources — including a Top 10 list in USA Today from Larry Bleiberg, who tapped expert Bob Gibbons for his picks. Gibbons is the author of “Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World” (Princeton University Press, $27.95).
You’ll find our picks in three categories: quick getaway, around the country and around the world. Each entry includes the range of time in which the wildflowers are in bloom — always dependent on weather conditions, of course. Some areas may be at their peak as you read this, but wildflowers are full of surprises, and there are always more to come.
The U.S. Forest Service provides lots of information on wildflowers, including a convenient list of viewing areas. Check out fs.fed.us/wildflowers/viewing/index.php.
—GEORGE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL PARKWAY, MARYLAND AND VIRGINIA
Why: The GWMP, designed by the Bureau of Public Roads, was completed in 1932 and was the first road project to have a full-time landscape architect. The parkway, part of the national park system, runs from the Great Falls of the Potomac through D.C. to Mount Vernon, linking memorials, historic landmarks and native habitats, the latter featuring 591 species of wildflowers.
When: Throughout the spring.
In particular: Turkey Run Park, just north of the capital, is awash in bluebells beginning in late April. Dyke Marsh, on the shores of the Potomac River near the southern end of the Parkway, is one of the park service’s largest tidal marsh areas, and features cattails, arrow arum, sweet flag, yellow bullhead lily jewelweed, river bullrush and wild rice (Uncle Ben’s?).
WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE
SKYLINE DRIVE, VIRGINIA
FURTHER AFIELD IN THE U.S.
In particular: Drive the seven-mile Antelope Loop Trail within the reserve and continue on to Antelope Butte Vista Point, at the 3,000-foot apex of the reserve, you’ll get gorgeous desert panoramas. Among the eight miles of trails through the park is a paved stretch from the accessible visitor center. A wheelchair is also available for check-out at the center during the wildflower season.
In particular: Tours are offered Saturdays from mid-March through May to Soda Lake and Painted Rock, focusing on wildflowers and other features on the Carrizo Plain, plus the 3,000- to 4,000-year-old Native American pictographs at Painted Rock.
Info: nps.gov/mora; flowersofrainier.com
Why: Sweeping fields of dark-orange poppies are one of the main showstoppers. But the Pian Grande — the grand plateau — offers a variety of hikes through spectacular wildflower settings. Don’t forget the beautiful medieval villages, friendly locals and great food.
In particular: The Gubbio Double Ring trail from the top of Monte Ingno winds through a forested canyon, historic sites, and wildflowers — identified on park display plaques. Another option is Monte Cucco, the highest point in Umbria, with incredible displays of wildflowers and, on a clear day, views all the way to the Adriatic Sea. The park has mineral springs, caves and is also home to wolves and golden eagles. Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini in Norcia offers abundant spring and summer wildflowers - with a landscape dotted by castles and fortresses. Above the tree line you’ll find rare species, such as the Apennine alpine star. Another feature of the park: If you’re too tired to hike, try a mule trek.
NATIONAL WILDFLOWER WEEK