I spent April chasing Oregon’s elusive wildflower bounty, hoping to catch the brief moment in time when tight little buds transform into fields of color. It’s a race against time, like trying to see a Broadway show with a limited run in evolving locations. It takes vigilance to stay abreast of where each bloom is at its pinnacle, and persistence to get to as many spots as possible.
It’s not like my own neighborhood is drab – quite the opposite! As temperatures warm I am caught off guard as I round a corner and find something that was just barely in bud and now has unfolded into a dazzling display.
Just after the snowfall’s last hurrah, magnificent pink tulip tree magnolias display their spring wardrobe, towering over roadways and backyards. Bright daffodils and multi-colored tulips pop up along every patch of dirt. Then the profuse dogwoods burst into shades of brilliant whites and warms pinks, followed by vivid cherry blossoms and purple and lavender lilacs scenting the air. Peonies explode in abundance, and countless varieties and shades of azaleas and rhododendrons unfold in turn. Now the irises are starting up too. Even in their demise tree petals fall graceful as snowflakes leaving a carpet of color on the ground.
As delightful and uplifting as this local beauty is, the further afield wildflower bloom is the holy grail I long for. I’ve somehow missed every Portland wildflower bloom so far (this is my fifth spring here!). This past long, wet winter I was glued to book, couch, and hearth, but now I feel an opposite attraction to go see the brightest and best. I don’t know if it’s hormones, planets aligned, coffee, or spring fever, but once again I hear the music and I can’t dance fast enough.
My first wildflower sighting made me actually shout aloud. Toward the end of March as I hiked through Macleay Park I caught sight of a single white trillium sprouting from a muddy hillside of green ferns and decaying leaves. They grow prolifically here, and one type is called Wake Robin, as they are among the first wildflower to bloom, a harbinger of spring peeking out from wooded undergrowth. They’re easily recognizable even to an amateur like me, with three graceful long lasting white petals on a bright green background, turning pink or purple as they age. (If only we aged with that same effortless elegance.) Seeing my first felt like an omen of good times ahead.
Soon after, I visited California where there was quite the hubbub about the superbloom. I enjoyed a long train ride along an unusually green and yellow-dotted coastline. The exuberant color at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden had me flying high. This was good juju and I needed more! Being amidst this riot of color saturates the senses, overrides worries, and future or past recede. Sometimes it’s just better not to think.
Returning to Portland, it was time to start my research. The Oregon Wildflowers Facebook page is full of gorgeous photos of currently blooming plants from both amateurs and pros. There I found flower identifications, and sometimes Latin names and distinctions within species. The local hiking website gave me trip specifics – how to get there, trail descriptions, and what to look for – I was girded, ready, and on a mission.
These reports ramped up all month, but I was still too early – my wanderings mostly revealed fields of buds – a promise of what was to come. Teases rolled in online, one species beginning to open but still nascent – soon, soon, be patient! It felt like waiting for a birth.
Finally whole hillsides went from burgeoning buds to full monty blooms, and I rearrange and prioritize my life to arrive at this pinnacle of floweriness. I was consumed with hiking, driving further afield, going through my photos, taking a few notes, and researching and planning my next trip.
The end of April brought a crescendo of efflorescence. The reports and photos were an irresistible magnet showing luxuriant swaths of intense color, bounteous profusion, the fulsome glory of camas, balsamroot, Indian paintbrush, foxglove, desert parsley, fawn lilies, on and on. It was time to drive out to the the zenith of splendor, the pinnacle of grandeur – the hills of the eastern Columbia Gorge, breathtaking in any season.
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Coming up – a showing and telling of some sites I visited.
Come on along!