A spectrum of color awaits spring visitors in the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Recall your elementary school “ROY G. BIV” lessons and try to spot each color in the local canyons, from spiky, red coastal paintbrush to the showy violet of arroyo lupine.
The next time you’re out in the Landmarks, look for these colorful spring sights:
Orange: Moving from red into orange are the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks (Buteo jamaicensis and Buteo lineatus), sporting rust-colored feathers that might be better described as dark orange. Also in the dark-orange camp is the black-headed grosbeak (Pheyticus melanocephalus), a visitor that has been spotted in the Agua Chinon area of OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve during its spring migration. Orange is also the color of our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), which can range from a bright tangerine color to a more subdued golden yellow.
Yellow: From the tiny flowers along the stem of common deerweed (Acmispon glaber) to the plentiful blooms of bush sunflower (Encelia californica), yellow is a common color for wildflowers. Early summer will bring yellow flowers on the coast prickly pear cactus (Opuntia littoralis) and stinking gourd/coyote melon (Cucurbita foetidissima) along most trails. Look for the yellow feathers of the Western kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) in a variety of habitats, and the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) in grassland habitats such as Quail Hill.
Green: Everywhere you look, the hills are green. You can also spot flashes of green on the Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) and the bramble hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys perplexa). Native plants are every possible shade of green after soaking up winter rains – keep an eye out for the fuzzy green leaves of hairy yerba santa (Eriodictyon crassifolium). Unfortunately, spring also brings up non-native grasses and invasive plants that steal resources from native plants. Birds and wildlife rely on native plants for food and shelter, so keeping invasive weeds at bay is critical to making sure that we can continue to see all of the other colors of the rainbow in the canyons. You can help – click here for upcoming stewardship volunteer activities.
Indigo: This dark bluish-purple is most prominently seen on the Parry’s phacelia (Phacelia parryi), spotted poking out of slopes in Limestone Canyon. The bright chia (Salvia columbariae) has multiple dark purple blooms arranged in balls along its square stems. Patient visitors may also see indigo spots on the wings of butterflies such as the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
Violet: Many local wildflowers are in the purple color range, from the hairy ceanothus (Ceanothus oliganthus) to the delicate cluster of blooms of wild hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum). And if you look closely at the arroyo lupine (Lupinus succulentus) flowers, you’ll see that each bloom is a gradient from dark violet to almost white. Even lighter is the California wild rose (Rosa californica), found in Bommer Canyon in the City of Irvine, and the more common bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasciculatus), plentiful along Hicks Haul Road in Limestone Canyon. If you have a bit of luck and a keen eye, you can also spot the purple feathers of a Costa’s hummingbird (Calypte costae) in spring, when they are a bit more abundant here.
To see the spectrum of colors in the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visit LetsGoOutside.org/activities and register for one of the hundreds of free outdoor activities happening this spring. For a downloadable PDF of the colors of native species you can see around the Landmarks this spring, click here.
Photos in order of species named; most photos courtesy of Natural History of Orange County: nathistoc.bio.uci.edu