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California Poppies Spring Back To Life

Feb 22, 2016

Sandy Kowallis paints the poppy covered hills east of Clovis
Credit Jeffrey Hess/KVPR

Right now, Central California’s rolling mountain foothills are painted in brilliant orange flowers. After years of drought, California poppies are back with a vengeance.

Standing on the side of highway 168, Sandy Kowallis uses a knife to spread sky blue oil paint on a fresh canvas to capture the beauty of two poppy covered hillsides.

“And that should make it even more interesting. Because if you put a complement next to each other, like orange and blue, each will intensify the other,” Kowallis said.

 Kowallis has a pallet of rich blues, vibrant greens, and electric oranges to capture the image of the poppies which have exploded to life in the last week.

She brought two friends with her today to bathe in the sunlight and practice painting the memorable and beautiful scene.

“They are gorgeous. They are gorgeous. It gives you a little inspiration. I mean you could always paint that hill and put a little orange on it. But it is not the same as being out here,” Kowallis explained.

Poppies take over whole hillsides along the San Joaquin River Gorge Trail in the hills of Fresno and Madera Counties.
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Poppies are the state flower of California and many people from the valley are traveling up and down the hills taking pictures, playing hooky from school, or just enjoying the uncommon site.

Jackie Valanie also stopped by the three women painting the hillside to snap a couple pictures of her own.

She said the brilliant display of flora is a welcome break from the four years of dry, dusty drought.

“How about the four or five-year drought? We don’t get this every year and we missed it. And it is not just the wild mustard, it is the lupine. It is the fiddleneck. There is just so much stuff up here,” Valanie said.

And for Valanie it’s not just the poppies but the ever shifting tableau of brilliant spring colors.

“I am up here just to enjoy it. Just to be in it. We come up maybe once a week because it will just keep changing. It will just keep getting wonderful. This is a treasure,” Valanie said.

It turns out that the drought might actually be the reason for the sudden and dramatic display of color brushed onto the green hills.

“And some people are calling this a ‘super bloom’ which I think is pretty accurate for what we are seeing out there,”

Credit Jeff Hess/KVPR

That’s Bridget Fithian, the executive director of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

“Sometimes I feel like I am walking in a Monet painting when I am out in the landscape and we have these big bloom years. Because it is just swaths of color covering the hillside. And right now we have a major bloom happening with the California Poppies,” Fithian said.

Fithian said it’s not every year that the poppies spring to life, let alone to have so many bloom at once.

The plants have the ability to delay germination during drought years meaning the seed bank was full and primed for a big year.

“And that the conditions have been just right this year with our greater precipitation. And then the timing of the warm spells as well to have the poppies all come out in force,” Fithian said.

Credit Nader Assemi

It is not exactly clear how the plants are able to determine when to bloom and not bloom.

However, because they are native to the area they are able to weather the dry spells and make a comeback better than non-native plant species.

The bloom is expected to last for roughly a month.