Wildflowers along Stevens Trail

On my recent hike on Stevens Trail, in the Sierra foothills near Colfax, I was astonished at how many wildflowers were already in bloom in the first week of February. There was such a variety that I decided to prepare this second post related to the hike, just to share some pictures of wildflowers and a few other plants.

The trail begins near the Colfax exit from I-80 and drops about 1000 feet in elevation to the North Fork American River at Secret Ravine after about 3.75 miles. Additional details about the trail and non-wildflower sightings are in the companion post about the hike. The trail passes through ecosystems classified as chaparral, lower conifer forest, rock outcrops, and riparian. For wildflower identification I consulted a terrific book entitled Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California as well as a web site referenced on the web site of the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, which authored the book.

I have a lot to learn about regional wildflowers, but I enjoy the visual variety and I try to identify as many as I can – and to be accurate in my identifications.

Relatively early in the hike, just as the trail begins to descend into the canyon of the North Fork American River, we saw our first of many manzanitas in bloom. The delicate pink blossoms were a sign that spring was coming, even if it was only early February.

picture of manzanita blossoms

Manzanita blossoms

About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, before arriving at the abandoned mine entrance, we encountered a cluster with two different types of blue wildflower. One was a little lighter in color and the blossoms had yellow centers reminiscent of shooting stars. I wasn’t able to identify this flower.

image of blue flowers with yellow centers

Blue flowers with yellow centers

The other nearby flower was hound’s tongue, most likely grand hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande), which can start blooming in February. Both the leaf shape and the circular white centers to the intense blue blossoms are helpful identifying characteristics.

photo of grand hound's tongue

Grand hound’s tongue

A short distance later we found some blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), one of the first wildflowers to bloom in the spring.

picture of blue dicks

Blue dicks

The next 2 miles included the primary descent to the river at the bottom of the canyon. In the upper area we passed a pretty white-flowering shrub that I think is buckbrush, also called wedgeleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus cuneatus).

image of buckbrush with clusters of small white blossoms

Buckbrush with clusters of small white blossoms

In this area, and elsewhere, we noticed leaf buds, both closed and partly open, that I believe are California buckeye. Buckeye is known for beginning its growth very early in the spring and dropping its leaves early in the fall – or even summer.

photo of California buckeye leaf buds

California buckeye leaf buds

In numerous places we passed lupine plants with their distinctive leaf patterns. I have not yet learned to identify the various local species of lupine by the leaves, and blooming season will come later in the spring.

picture of distinctive lupine leaves

Distinctive lupine leaves

I was especially captivated by Henderson’s shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii), which we found in several locations. This is another early bloomer and grows up to 6000 feet elevation.

image of Henderson’s shooting star

Henderson’s shooting star

As we approached the level of the river the habitat became moister, with more fungi growing on tree trunks and with moss-covered rocks along the river’s edge. We noticed what appeared to be a different type of hound’s tongue: it seemed different because the leaves were darker, rather purplish in fact. The flower stalks were also shorter. If this was also a grand, perhaps it was just earlier in its blooming cycle.

photo of hound's tongue near the river

Hound’s tongue near the river

Near the Secret Ravine confluence we saw quite a few milkmaids (Cardamine californica), also early bloomers. Although this group had white petals, others nearby were pinkish.

picture of milkmaids near the river

Milkmaids near the river

Also near the Secret Ravine confluence we saw a several remarkable brilliant green plants. The leaves are quite striking, but I don’t know yet what the plant is.

image of green plant with striking leaves

Green plant with striking leaves

On the return hike, still within about 100 vertical feet of the river, we passed a moist, nearly vertical, rock wall with a mass of delicate-looking white flowering plants growing on the wall. Based on the descriptions and pictures in the wildflower guide, I think they are waterfall false buttercup (Kumlienia hystricula) – or possibly western rue anemone (Isopyrum occidentale). They look similar, and both are early bloomers.

photo of waterfall false buttercup (I think), along the lower part of Stevens Trail

Waterfall false buttercup (I think), along the lower part of Stevens Trail

A short distance later we noticed a plant with clusters of tiny yellow flowers. I’m pretty sure it is a lomatium, either a Foothill (or common) lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum) or else a biscuitroot (Lomatium nudicaule). Both species are known to be early-blooming wildflowers.

picture of Foothill lomatium, or possibly biscuitroot

Foothill lomatium, or possibly biscuitroot

In numerous places along the trail we passed bay laurels (Laurus nobilis) in bloom. Here is one example, with the blossoms in the center of a pattern of leaves.

image of bay laurel in bloom

Bay laurel in bloom

As the spring progresses, the wildflowers along Stevens Trail will change with the season. I will look forward to another opportunity to experience the beautiful wildflowers of the area – and hopefully I will continue to learn to identify and recognize more of them.

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3 Responses to Wildflowers along Stevens Trail

  1. Lawrence says:

    Sue, the blue flowers with yellow centers are, I reckon, blue witch nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum, native.

  2. Pingback: Stevens Trail | trailhiker

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