Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve: A Wildflower Extravaganza

This spring I am finally understanding why people say Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is a wonderful place to go to enjoy spring wildflowers. I recently hiked there and – even with the unusual winter and spring weather we’ve had, or perhaps because of it – was both impressed and delighted by the wildflower display. I returned several times over the course of a week, re-hiking different sections to look for certain flowers, sometimes just to enjoy them some more and sometimes to see if I could get better pictures. In this post I want to share my wildflower experience in this amazing open space preserve.

My path was along the Bay Area Ridge Trail route between trailheads at Horseshoe Lake in Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve and Rapley Ranch Rd at the north end of Russian Ridge OSP. This route passes through several different plant ecosystems. There are moist, shady areas as well as drier open, grassy hillsides. There are other habitat differences that I’m not knowledgeable enough to appreciate and identify. Each type of wildflower has a preferred habitat, and some wildflowers are more widely and abundantly found, while others seem to prefer a certain hillside.

The day of my first visit was grey and misty, and even the abundant poppies seemed to be in hiding, with their petals closed. When I returned two days later on a fine, sunny day, the poppies were open and enjoying the sunshine. I noticed different shades of blossoms: besides the usual orange-poppy color there were yellow poppies as well as some with orange centers and yellow tips, which I imagined might be some kind of naturally-occurring hybrid. I also noticed distinctive pink disks pierced by the stem, though I did not initially realize that they were part of the poppy life cycle, being the “remains” after the petals fall off. This picture makes it clear that they are part of the same plant.

image of California poppies

California poppies

Another common wildflower is blue-eyed grass. At Russian Ridge these pretty plants are found in a variety of sunny habitats, and in some places they are quite abundant. The origin of the name is curious, since the plant is not a grass, but apparently a member of the lily family; the flowers are closer to purple than blue; and the central “eye” is yellow!

photo of blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass

Checkermallow is a common name for several different species of flower. In fact, I saw at least two different types of flower that might both be checkermallows. The picture shows the type I saw more frequently. In another type the 5 petals were wider and overlapped to form a cup, but the rest of the petal structure seemed – to me, a definite non-expert! – to be similar.

picture of checkermallow


On the misty day I noticed a pretty flower with a similar petal structure but a purple color. I am not always careful to photograph the rest of the plant, and that additional information would often help with identifying the flower. I thought this one was especially pretty, however, with the water droplets and an ethereal atmosphere.

image of pretty purple wildflower

Pretty purple wildflower

Another purple wildflower that I saw in many places is shown here. The blossoms hang from the stems in rows, and each blossom includes several distinctly different shades of color. Because they seemed to flower in tall spikes, I informally call them tall purple wildflowers, even though they’re not actually very tall: perhaps 8” (20 cm) above the soil.

photo of tall purple wildflower

Tall purple wildflower

Other common and abundant wildflowers include buttercup and lupine. The purple thistles were just starting to bloom and will soon become more apparent and visible along the trails.

About 0.2 mile north of the Hawk Ridge Trail junction there is a viewing platform at the edge of a grove of trees. Just before reaching the viewing platform, coming from the south, I found 3 trilliums starting to bloom. This one was the most advanced, and it is interesting to be able to see, in the picture, the vein structure in the petals.

picture of trillium in bloom

Trillium in bloom

In the same shaded area there was Solomon’s seal, a pretty plant with a distinct vein structure in its leaves. I found more near the end of the hike, at the edge of Horseshoe Lake several miles south.

image of Solomon’s seal

Solomon’s seal

Miner’s lettuce is another of my favorite shade-loving plants. I observed it several places along the trail. I tend to think of Indian paintbrush as a sun-loving wildflower, but I saw a little bit of it not far from the trilliums. It will be more prominent later in the season.

Not far south of Rapley Ranch Rd, on the misty day, I saw some salsify flowers. Unfortunately, all of my pictures were blurry, so I looked especially hard for them when I returned 2 days later. To my surprise, I couldn’t find a single one. In just two days, apparently the flowers had completed that portion of their life cycle and gone on to the next. On the return day, however, in the same general area, I found a pretty butterfly sunning itself on a long delicate tendril of a stem. It stayed there for nearly a minute before flying off to another perch.

photo of butterfly sunning itself

Butterfly sunning itself

The 2-mile stretch of Ridge Trail from the main parking area to the Hawk Ridge Trail junction was a treasure trove of wildflowers. On my return visit, less than 0.1 mile after leaving the parking lot, I was already marveling at the poppy display and commented about it to a couple returning down the trail. Their quick reply was “wait till you get up top!” And sure enough, the poppy display was even more spectacular, along with a wide variety of wildflowers on the sunny grassy hillsides.

Tidy tips are particularly delightful, with their bright yellow centers and crisp white tips.

picgture of jaunty tidy tip

Jaunty tidy tip

There were also numerous yellow pansies, also called California golden violet or viola pedunculata. I had never seen these before, so I’m documenting the various names here where I can quickly find them again! The delicate pattern of the darker color is quite striking.

image of yellow pansy

Yellow pansy

This small, bright pink wildflower was common in this area. It grows close to the ground and was very noticeable next to the trail. Although common, I haven’t yet discovered its name.

photo of bright pink wildflower

Bright pink wildflower

On this hike I “discovered” owl’s clover, though I didn’t learn the name until later. In the early stage of blooming, when viewed top-down, the flower-head has an intricate swirly pattern that suggested my colloquial name of “brain flower”. Once the blooms get a little farther along, the flower head opens up and small white blossoms start to emerge.

picture of owl’s clover, top view

Owl’s clover, top view

Another wildflower that seemed to be changing quickly was fiddlenecks. I’d previously seen – or noticed – just isolated plants like the example at the left in the picture. On a return trip just days later, there were masses of fiddlenecks in bloom, with the characteristic tops unrolling as the blooms emerge.

image of fiddlenecks


Other flowers in abundance in this area of the preserve include mule’s ear and several different types of sweet pea, including bright yellow and two-toned purple-and-pink.

Moving farther south into Skyline Ridge OSP, near the overlook (as well as in other places) I found yellow sticky monkeyflower. Also, there is a particular hillside not far from the main parking area near Horseshoe Lake where I think other wildflowers will soon join the poppies, blue-eyed grass, and buttercups.

Near the junction with Ipawa Trail, about 0.5 mile from the Horseshoe Lake trailhead, I noticed some beautiful wild irises. I think that perhaps they had been yellow; however, the color had faded but the petals were all still intact. These flowers seemed especially delicate, so I didn’t try to touch them to determine whether that was the case or not.

photo of previously yellow wild iris?

Previously yellow wild iris?

As I returned to the trailhead from Horseshoe Lake, I noticed a couple of unusual plants with long leaves extending upward from a seed pod-like structure. I don’t know what they are actually called, but I decided to refer to them as lamp plants, since the leaf structure is reminiscent of a certain old-fashioned style of lamp.

picture of striking lamp-like plant

Striking lamp-like plant

While enjoying my hikes in Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge OSP’s I had a delightful time finding and photographing more and more wildflowers. I’m sure that I’ve captured only a fraction of the more common types, and that there are many dozens, if not hundreds, more. I look forward to continuing to learn to recognize more of the beautiful wildflowers that live in the local open space preserves and put on beautiful displays as the season progresses.

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9 Responses to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve: A Wildflower Extravaganza

  1. dipperanch says:

    I just returned from a day of conducting vegetation surveys at Russian Ridge grasslands and it is so refreshing to read your descriptions of this beautiful place. Here’s a few id’s for you:
    – the dewy “pretty purple flower” – probably a hedge nettle, Stachys species, flowers aren’t even open yet in your photo.
    – the “tall purple wildflower” – winter vetch
    – the butterfly is a variable checkerspot
    – the “bright pink wildflower” – red maids
    – Fernald’s iris are indeed a delicate yellow color
    – the “Striking lamp-like plant” is the seed head of teasel.
    Great job on describing the beauty and variety of these two preserves. I look forward to reading more of your posts. If you want help identifying wildflowers, check the “wildflower” section on the Links Page here and I highly recommend the Natural Diversity Database:

  2. randomtruth says:

    Lovely write up. Russian Ridge is indeed a beautiful area, and even gets far better on wetter years. A few IDs for ya, if you’d like them… your checkermallow is Sidalcea malviflora, and the similar one like it you saw is likely Sidalcea diploscypha; the “tall purple” wildflowers are winter vetch; your butterfly a Chalcedon Checkerspot; another great name for your Viola is Johnny Jump Ups; your bright pinks are Red Maids; the native iris is Fernald’s Iris and isn’t faded, just often soft yellow; and the last pic is Teasel, a weird non-native brought from Europe. Oh – and if you go again in the next few weeks, the Mariposa Lilies will likely be blooming. 😉

    • trailhiker says:

      Thanks for helping with ID’s. Yes, I’m hoping to go back in time to catch the mariposa lilies too. I can only imagine how much more spectacular Russian Ridge would be in a wet year.

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  6. Amie Uittenbogaard says:

    Did you ever find the name of the “tall purple flower”? I have found some myself in Kentucky. Curious on what they are called.

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