The only thing more fun than spotting wildflowers on a hike is knowing what they are—no easy task as there are over 2,000 species of wildflower in and around the Sierra Nevada. Where to even begin?
Hopefully you have taken a few hikes by now, keenly observing your surroundings and faithfully documenting your finds by capturing digital images.
Tahoe Institute for Natural Science (TINS) sponsors wildflower hikes throughout the summer, led by various knowledgeable members of the community.
John Roos, a lifetime member of the California Native Plant Society, led a hike last weekend at Luther Pass off HWY 88 from Big Meadow Trailhead to Scott’s Lake, documenting nearly 50 species, including:
•Swamp onion •Spotted coral root •Northern coral root •Orange-flowered agoseris •Mountain sagebrush •Mugwort •Golden aster •Wavy-leaved aster •Western aster •Coulter's daisy •Hawkweed •Side bells •White-veined wintergreen •Pine drops •Giant hyssop (horse mint) •Bog mallow •Fireweed •Willow herb •Bridge's Gilia •Scarlet Gilia •Jacob's Ladder •Nude buckwheat •Sulphur-flowered buckwheat •Alpine knotweed •Monkshood, in several shades •Towering larkspur •Crimson columbine •Common monkey flower
A great source for identifying local flora is any state’s Native Plant Society. See cnps.org (California) and nvnps.org (Nevada).
Tom Schuster, a German engineer working in landscape architecture for Moana Nursery in Reno, led a hike starting from Squaw Valley High Camp along Shirley Canyon Trail, where participants were able to enjoy waterfalls, a creek, numerous wildflowers including lupines, stone crop, lilies and buckwheat, as well as birds and butterflies.
Tom enjoys helping people to understand the entire ecosystem that makes up an area. In his work in landscaping design, he is encouraging residents to create a natural wildlife sanctuary in their own yards, that can be registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.
Feel free to stop in at the Moana Nursery on Moana Lane in Reno to talk to Tom further about creating your own wildlife refuge.
A hike two weeks ago, led by Lynn Harriman along the Tahoe Rim Trail from Echo Summit to Lower Benwood Meadow netted over 60 species of wildflower, including:
•Twinberry •Sierra Gooseberry •Huckleberry Oak •Mountain Gooseberry •Pinemat Manzanita •Thimble Berry •Lady Fern •Rein Orchid •Bog Orchid •Alaskan Rein Orchid •Rattlesnake Plantain •Mountain Pennyroyal •Horsemint •Western Monkshood •Western Bistort •Nude Buckwheat •Pussypaws •Strawberry •Mountain Pride Penstemon •Jeffrey Shooting Star •Columbine •Alpine Lily •Monkey Flower •Sulphur Flower •Goldenaster •Anderson Thistle •Cinquefoil •Pretty Face •Mountain Blue Bells
It’s not always possible to join hikes with wildflower experts so you must rely on your wits, your camera and a good guide book, pamphlet or poster.
I was in Tahoe City recently, distributing the Lake Tahoe scenic calendar, when I spied a conveniently-sized pamphlet called “Wildflowers of Tahoe”, compiled by Hannah Sullivan and Cliff Lambson, both of whom occasionally lead hikes for TINS.
Hannah and Cliff have been leading guided hikes for years; in fact, that is how they met, at Lake Tahoe, 6 years ago. Both are passionate about wildflowers, are self-taught and can be enticed to give photo presentations and talks.
Hannah always thought there should be an easy-to-use and carry guidebook to aid in identifying wildflowers while hiking, but she couldn't find one. So she decided to produce it herself. She and Cliff have produced a pamphlet (which can also double as a poster when opened) for Tahoe wildflowers and another for Yosemite National Park.
They retail for about $6 and can be found in several area stores; also on the local-based website tahoetshirtsandgifts.com.
The pamphlet measures 4 ¼ x 9 ¾, opening up to a poster-sized piece identifying dozens of the area’s wildflowers and a list of potential hiking areas where one may find these flowers.
Jim Markle, area photographer and wildflower enthusiast based in Incline Village, has produced a beautiful poster that will aid those interested in identifying wildflowers.
The poster measures 18x24 and features 30 photographs of Lake Tahoe’s wildflowers. The poster is available at the Incline Village Visitor’s Center but can also be purchased online at tahoetshirtsandgifts.com.
If you haven’t had the chance to attend a hike with TINS, Dr. Will Richardson, co-founder of TINS, will be giving a presentation of flowering plant relationships at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe this Friday, August 5 from 8-9 p.m. in the amphitheater.
Dr. Richardson will also be talking about the Tahoe Wildflower Big Year, a program created by TINS for compiling and sharing photos and locations of Tahoe’s wildflowers. Find more details at tinsweb.org and see the photos posted by participants along with identifications of the different flowers.
Soon these lovely flowers will be dropping their petals and turning to seed so pick up one or some of these tools for identification, grab your camera and take a hike!