Wildflowers of the world

Spectacular early spring flowers in the Sonoran Desert, Anza-Borrego State Park, California

Words & Pictures: Bob Gibbons

After a wet winter, such as we might get in an El Niño year, the deserts of far southern California and adjacent areas of Mexico burst into flower in a way that’s hard to imagine if you visit in high summer when all is dry and brown.

This is a lovely mountainous landscape, hugely enriched by the blanket of colour after the rains. The picture shows part of the huge Anza-Borrego State Park in February, with the graceful white dune evening primrose Oenothera deltoides on the right, amid carpets of magenta sand verbena Abronia villosa. Dozens of other species occur in a good year.

Want to know more the parks department has all the information you need including details on a wildflower hotline.

Source: Bob Gibbons book of Wildflower Wonders of the World

The high meadows of Mount Rainier, Washington

Mount Rainier, in the Cascade Mountains, is one of the few world-renowned wildflower landscapes.

I had seen pictures in books and on calendars before I went, but nothing fully prepares you for the astonishing sight that meets your eyes. The high meadows are not just filled to the brim with flowers, but they’re such lovely flowers – blue lupins, magenta paintbrushes, yellow louseworts, orange arnica and dozens more, frothing over a wonderful unspoilt high mountain landscape.

Rainier has a huge annual snowfall, and the flowers come late – somewhere between mid-July and mid-August depending on the year.

Find out more It’s essential to check the website before visiting as the flowering time varies so much.

The flowers of the Colorado Rockies in July.

The small town of Crested Butte in central Colorado is officially the ‘wildflower capital of Colorado’. This picture shows why.

As the snow melts from the meadows above the tree line, a glorious mixture of plants erupts into flower, making best use of the short season before the autumn frosts arrive.

Tall Aspen sunflowers vie with blue columbines (the state flower), orange Indian paintbrushes, and blue lupins amongst others. Many parts of the high Colorado Rockies have wonderful flowers, but those in the valleys around Crested Butte are probably the best.

I could happily walk in these high valleys for days. There is a Wildflower Festival here every year in July.

Spring flowers on the Akrotiri Peninsula, south Cyprus.

There may only be one species of flower dominating this cypriot field in spring, but it’s such an irresistibly gorgeous flower that it doesn’t matter.

The turban buttercup Ranunculus asiaticus has huge anemone-like flowers that may be white, blue, scarlet or yellow, or a mixture in the same flower as you’ll notice here. There are also a few blue or purple crown anemones scattered through the field, but it’s the buttercups that steal the show, conjuring up visions of warm sunny March days in the Mediterranean.

As with most of these exceptional displays, they don’t last long, squeezed between the cool of winter and the drought and heat of summer. For the best flowers in Cyprus, go early, preferably in March.

The Temblor mountains in spring, California.

In many ways, this is the most extraordinary and unbelievable flower landscape I have ever seen. The scale is almost unimaginable, with mile after mile of hills completely covered with flowers.

I had seen an untitled picture on the internet which aroused my interest, and eventually tracked its location to the Temblor Hills, part of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It’s not an easy place to get to, many miles from anywhere and with a considerable walk to arrive at the best viewpoints, but it’s so well worth it.

The sight – and scent – of this vast extent of hillside daisies, blazing stars, phacelias and Californian poppies is something you never forget.

Find out more The display doesn’t happen every year, so it’s worth checking the Monument website.

High pastures in the Ecrins mountains, France.

The Écrins National Park in the western French Alps is an exceptional area, noted for its high peaks, deep valleys, glaciers and forests. But it’s also a wonderfully flowery area, within the protective embrace of the National Park. I found this glorious meadow next to a partly abandoned village, at about 1500 metres above the town of Vallouise.

The combination of the stately pink spikes of bistort with the lovely blue cups of wood cranesbill, together with alpine bellflowers, Jove’s flowers and much else is a perfect one. It’s also an exceptional place for butterflies, attracted by the array of food-plants.

Find out more visit the national parc website for more information.

The flowery machair grassland of South Uist.

Wherever the outermost north-western isles of Britain are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, when sea-ground sand and shells are blown inland over the peat, a fascinating habitat known as machair has developed. Local crofters use the land sporadically for short-term cultivation, and for grazing, producing a wonderful tapestry of mixed annual and perennial wildflowers, at their most colourful in early July.

There aren’t many world-class wildflower landscapes in Britain, but this is certainly one of them. It’s also one of the best places for breeding waders and coastal birds in Europe. True, it’s often cold and always windy, but I love it.

This is a a great source of information about machair.

Olive groves in spring on the Mani Peninsula, Greece.

I’ve been going to the Mani Peninsula – the central finger of the Peloponnese – for over 20 years, yet I always look forward to returning there with eager anticipation. It has extraordinary spring flowers, in an abundance unrivalled elsewhere in Europe; yet it also has landscapes of great beauty, ancient Byzantine churches scattered throughout in the most unlikely places, and a wonderful sense of peace and timelessness.

Unlike so many other places in south Europe, the olive groves are still ancient and unploughed – thanks to the unforgiving limestone rock – and they have retained their marvellous masses of flowers, butterflies and birds.

Go in late March or early April to see this wonderful rich tapestry of spring wildflowers below ancient olive trees, where anemones and cranesbills mix with cerinthe and orchids.

Spring wildflowers around a café in the Namaqua National Park, South Africa.

In a good year, after plentiful late winter rains, the whole of the vast area of western South Africa known as Namaqualand bursts into flower for a brief period beginning in mid-August. For the rest of the year, it’s a desert.

In these wetter years, it’s possible to take lovely colourful photos of flowers almost anywhere, but I particularly like this scene for the way in which the tide of colour – made up of blue felicias, yellow grielums and orange daisies – laps right up to the edges of the little café in the centre of the Park. I suspect that the extraordinary gaudy colours are a response to the shortage of insects, which have to be wooed to come and pollinate.

For more information on Namaqua visit the website.