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Dales: A Flowering Kaleidoscope

By Carol Witham

There are lots of great places to view wildflowers. I can think of a dozen or so within an hour (or two) drive from my home. Most are highly dependent upon both rainfall patterns and early spring temperatures. Too little rain or too hot too early and you get too few flowers. Not so at Dales in northern Tehama County! This area has had consistently spectacular wildflower displays in each of the past ten years I have been going there.

Situated on a volcanic mudflow plateau to the northeast of Red Bluff, Dales has shallow soils underlain by impermeable rock. As in vernal pool landscapes, rainwater perches above the impermeable layer and slowly evaporates in the spring. Because non-native annual grasses generally cannot grow in saturated soils, the native wildflowers are released from competition and bloom in profusion. Greatest of all, the plateau blooms continuously during March and April and each week the dominant species on display change!

Spring begins early March as soft, pale shades of yellow, cream and rose.  Here Yellow Carpet (Blennosperma nanum) and Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii var. rosea) dominate a swale.

As March ends, the pale shades give way to sharper and brighter colors. And, as the flats begin to bloom, one can see that the greenery evident earlier in the season wasn't grass at all!

As April begins, the plain becomes a solid sea of bright yellow-gold. Here the shallow soils remain saturated for much of the winter which excludes the non-native annual grasses so common elsewhere.

In a riot of yellow, California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) and Tidy-tips (Layia fremontii) bloom syncronously over thousands of acres. Native specialist bees gather pollen to feed their small broods.

By late April, the yellow flowers begin to wither and set seed. Only then do you notice the layer of pale lilac flowers below the vibrant gold.

The goldfields and tidy-tips are quickly replaced by the pale lilac of Vernal Pool Brodiaea (Brodiaea minor). There are so many of these Brodiaea that one wonders how so many bulbs are hidden in the shallow soils.

By early May, most of the showier blooms are long gone. The seeding annuals and the sparse grasses are both beginning to brown. But, if you look closely you see a light mist of purple and pink hovering about a foot above the ground.

The purple and pink turn out to be even more Brodiaeas! And mixed in the drying vegetation are other late bloomers such as Navarretia, Clarkia, and Calochortus.

The Brodiaeas

The shallow soils at Dales are just filled with bulbs! In addition to the Brodiaea, several species of Dichelostemma and Triteleia also occur here. The three species below put on particularly dense displays.

Vernal Pool Brodiaea (Brodiaea minor) is low growing and pale lilac. It has a conspicuous constriction in the flower tube just above the ovary and short upright stamenoides. 

Elegant Brodiaea or Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans ssp. elegans) is taller and has purple flowers. The flower is funnel-shaped and the stamenoides are pressed against the petals.

California Brodiaea (Brodiaea californica var. californica) is a tall plant with large pale pink flowers. The stamenoides are long with wavy margins and are pressed up against the stamens.

So if you happen to find yourself in northern Tehama County any time during the spring, take a brief detour to the mudflow plateau just above the tiny community of Dales. 

About the Photographer

CAROL WITHAM is a life member of CNPS. She is an active volunteer within the Sacramento Valley Chapter and at the state organization level. One of her favorite activities is sharing a special place with others through a field trip, slide show or education program. Carol can be reached at

Photos and text © 2000 Carol Witham. All rights reserved.

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