Fall Flower Report: Autumn wildflower chronicles: a seasonal spectacle

Even in this year of late and extended blooms, most wildflowers have gone into hiding by the end of September. However, here are a few things to look out for as we head into the deeper fall season.

By Laura Palmer
October 8, 2023
Amaryllis belladonna aka Naked Ladies

Butterflies, bees, beetles, and wasps (many beneficial) all need to use our late summer and fall bloomers, where we get larger clusters of smaller flowers, primarily white and yellow (like coyote bush) to purple. This will be a year of late and extended blooms; while most wildflowers have gone into hiding by the end of September and early October, here are a few things to look out for as we head deeper into the fall season.

Divide Your Naked Ladies! (Amaryllis belladonna) Dig up the bulbs once all the stems have died back, replant, and spread them around in sunny areas to get a great show in a few years’ time. These late summer performers can take a bit to find their groove and really need their beauty rest. They tend not to bloom for a year or two after planting, so make sure you leave some undisturbed in order to enjoy the fragrant flowers next year!

Amaryllis belladonna aka Naked Ladies

California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) – An important late summer nectar plant for pollinators, these perennial plants grow to about 3 feet tall and are covered with light purple daisy flowers with yellow centers. On a warm day, you can find them by following the sound of buzzing bees. These plants are drought-tolerant but use a lot of water for their best floral shows. Look for them in areas with full sun that have some sort of underground water source or places that stay wet very late into the year. We are at the very tail end of their season now, so remember where you see them and begin looking in mid-August next year for the best show.

California Sand Aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia) – A very low-growing, sweet little aster with flowers ranging from whitish to lavender. You’ll see this crawling around on sandy hillsides with other low-growing plants in full bright sun. Think of the stabilized sand dunes in B-Lo, Zyante/Quail Hollow area, and Bonny Doon. I first saw this on the cliffs in Point Lobos, so it lives on the coast too!

Symphyotrichum chilense aka California Aster

Sand Verbena, Yellow Sand Verbena (Abronia umbellata, A. latifolia) – The pink and yellow flowers on the beach! These bloom all year long, so let’s talk about them in the fall when there’s nothing else going on. Look for them at Seabright/Castle Beach, Blacks, and Pajaro Dunes, among many others. These plants have adaptations to help them survive the constantly shifting sands. The flowers have nectar when there’s nothing else blooming, and their seeds are a valuable source of nutrition for the native rodent populations. It’s no wonder these plants are frequently used for beach and bluff restoration.

Yellow Sand Verbena

Goldenrod (Solidago velutina) – These spires of yellow flowers are another incredibly important late summer nectar plant for butterflies. You can find Goldenrod on sunny grassy hillsides and mixed among soft chaparral on the bluffs. You’ll likely also see it in any butterfly and bee-conscious neighbor’s yard. The tall nodding inflorescences sway in the wind, making this a striking companion for your garden and a sight to behold on a blustery fall day on the cliffs.

Goldenrod (Solidago velutina)

Mock Heather (Ericameria ericoides) – Also known as California goldenbush, this is a 1-to-3 foot shrub, inconspicuous most of the year, becoming covered in yellow daisy flowers in the fall, blanketing the sandy hillsides and cliff faces in yellow. Another member of chaparral/soft chaparral, you’ll be able to find this shrub along the coast, in Wilder Ranch, the Coast Dairies area, Highway One all the way to San Francisco, as well as up in the mountains, in stabilized sand dunes.

In the redwood forests, you can still spot some redwood sorrel, peeking out in shades of pink from beneath their clover leaf cover. You’ll also come across remnants of harebells, with a few lingering blue blooms atop their tall flower spikes. However, this time of year is ideal for discovering end-of-season fruit, including the delightful blackberries and thimbleberries (YUM!).

The Baneberry shrub, a charming understory plant, can be found in Nisene Marks, adorning many hillsides along Aptos Creek Road. Its serrated soft leaves, on delicate stems rising individually from bare spots in the ground in spring, contribute to the forest’s ephemeral mystery, filling patches of light with shadows and homes for imagination. As you stroll by, the clusters of holly-like berries in the fall remind us that Christmas and winter are just around the corner. Note: Look but don’t touch; the baneberries are poisonous!

The Baneberry shrub