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Early Spring Wildflowers to Welcome the Season 

With fickle weather, the only sure sign that spring is really here is the arrival of colorful flowers

Spring in the high desert is a mercurial thing: sun and warm temperatures one day, followed by snow and sleet the next. The only sure sign that spring is really here is the arrival of wildflowers! Central Oregon, with its deserts and high mountain meadows, is chock full of wildflowers and a nice long season (March-August) to explore them all.

March and April are the season for early spring wildflowers—those first bursts of color that dot the landscape. Look for these in our sagebrush grasslands where the snow melts first and the soil has warmed enough to encourage new growth. At first glance it may not seem like there is much blooming; early spring is the season for small (think dime-sized or smaller) flowers rather than the showy, large blooms (like balsamroot) that come with late spring and summer. But look carefully, and be rewarded with tiny pops of color that shout spring and bring smiles to faces. Here are five early spring flowers to keep an eye out for this season:

Goldfields (Crocidium multicaule): One of our very first wildflowers of the season! You'll find these dime-size flowers in shallow rocky soil and under juniper trees in sagebrush grasslands. In good years, they will literally form a golden carpet and you can watch their bright yellow heads follow the sun's path. Single yellow flower with eight rays ¼-1/2" long on a delicate stem up to 6" tall. Blooms: March-April.

  • Credit Joan Amaro

Yellow bell (Frittillaria pudica): Another early bloomer, these beautiful yellow, pendant-shaped lilies can be found in grasslands to pine forest. Its leaves are grasslike, and its bulbs are a food source for Native American tribes. Bears, gophers, and squirrels eat the bulbs, deer and elk the leaves. Yellow bells typically emerge after the goldfields have arrived. Blooms: Flowers are 7/8" long and can be yellow to brownish-orange. Blooms March-April.

  • Courtesy Deschutes Land Trust

Prairie star (Lithophragma parviflorum): This early bloomer has a delicate, white to lavender-pink, irregular flower atop a slender red stem. Found in sagebrush flats to pine forests. Flowers have five petals that are 1/4" long atop a 4-12" tall stem. Blooms: April- May.

  • Courtesy Deschutes Land Trust

Spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa): Low-growing wildflower that prefers rocky crevices and exposed locations. Flowers have five pink-purple-white petals that create a mass of color. Phlox is adapted to extreme environments, cushion-like plants like phlox often have taproots 8-15' deep!

Sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus): These bright yellow flowers are found in sagebrush flats to pine forests and grow in small clumps. The flowers have five petals that are 1/2" long atop a single stem and turn white with age. Petals are glossy, often looking wet with dew. Blooms: March-early summer.

Come May, the wildflowers start to get bolder. Dime-size flowers give way to half-dollar ones: sand lilies, larkspur, buckwheat. Then, we can revel in the showy guys that will signal the arrival of summer: lupine, balsamroot and paintbrush. Now is the time to get out and soak in these blooms! These tiny little yellows, pinks and purples will only last for so long. Learn more about the wildflowers of Central Oregon, including where to find them: deschuteslandtrust.org/explore/central-oregon-wildflowers.

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