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Carrizo Superbloom

Morgan Oliver-Allen


Behind the Shot

A superbloom in Central and Southern California requires an unlikely series of events to occur in a precise order. The fact that superblooms occur every decade or two defies probability.

Billions of seeds must form a seed blanket, which must remain protected, buried several inches underground, completely undisturbed for many years. The soil must be dry from years of drought, and no other plants can be growing over the buried seed blanket.

Then it has to rain—specifically in the fall, and with enough rainfall to saturate the ground to reach the buried seeds. The rain must be sustained, but the area can’t flood. Flooding would wash the soil and seed blanket away.

Next, the ground and seed blanket has to warm up slowly over a few months. Optimal conditions require frequently overcast skies to prevent the soil and seeds from drying too quickly. The nights can’t get too cold, or the germinating seeds will freeze.

Soon the newly germinated plants reach the surface. The fragile plants must survive strong winds, being crushed by off-road vehicles or being uprooted by hikers.

By mid-March, if everything happens precisely as it should, wildflowers of every color will carpet the hills and valleys of California, from the Mexican border to the Central California valleys. The superbloom peak can last a few weeks, and the flowers can remain for months. Once they die, the process begins again.

Morgan traveled to the Carrizo Plain in Central California to see a recent superbloom in person. “I heard about the amazing flowers, but I have terrible allergies. I got full head-to-toe hives and rashes everywhere. I was living on Benadryl and antihistamines for months. It was amazing, though. Totally worth the discomfort.”