Wildflower wonderland: Where to catch May’s best blooms

The open spaces and public parks around Reno are filled with wildflowers. From resilient blooms close to the ground to ostentatious bushes, wildflowers have adapted to our harsh springs and summers, and can survive wind, limited water and sun. 

With help from Emma Wynn from the Nevada Native Plant Society, here is a list of unique flowers to keep an eye out for—and the trails where you can find them. 

Evans Canyon Loop Trail at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park 

Among the many blooms along the Evans Canyon Loop Trail at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, the most notable is the desert peach. This shrub can reach up to seven feet tall, with beautiful pink flowers and small fruits that are food sources for animals including mule deer and white-tailed antelope squirrels. 

Along the creek from early May to June, find these other blooms: 

• Dazzling orange-to-red desert paintbrush 

• Purplish-pink twinleaf onion, with spiky flowers clumped in groups of 15 to 35 

• Bright yellow sunflowers of Hooker’s or arrowleaf balsamroot 

• Low-lying pink flowers called cold-desert phlox and pink phlox 

• Tall stalks—up to six feet!—of Palmer’s penstemon, with pink, bulbous flowers 

A desert peach blooms along the Evans Canyon Loop in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Photo/Helena Guglielmino

Steamboat Ditch Trail in Mayberry Park 

The showy milkweed along the portion of the Steamboat Ditch Trail near the Tom Cooke Trail in Mayberry Park has multiple, star-shaped flowers, a bit like a dandelions, growing in a ball at the end of stalks that can reach almost four feet. These flowers bloom through late June, and can sometimes last until August. Showy milkweed likes growing near water, but also grows on dry slopes and roadsides, and in open woodland areas. The bloom is habitat and food for the monarch butterfly, as well as other insects like the queen butterfly and dogbane tiger moth. When the stalk or leaves are cut, they produce a milky sap––a substance that some Native Americans used for medicinal purposes. The stalks were also used to weave baskets and rope. 

Other blooms to look for: 

• Delicate, tissue-paper-like white poppy blooms 

• The aforementioned desert peach’s lovely pink blooms 

• The white flowers adorning chokecherry shrubs 

• The rich-purple Lewis flax flowers, about three inches off the ground 

Hidden Valley Regional Park Trail System 

The apricot mallow is one of the most stunning blooms found in Hidden Valley Regional Park—and there are quite a few of them now! A delicate, tissue-paper-like flower grows on this native shrub from April through July, and potentially into August. These blooms have five petals and are bowl-shaped. Their peach-like color makes them unique amid a high desert catalog of purple, pink, white and yellow. This shrub loves desert environments, from Nevada to Baja California. It grows in dry, alkaline soils and is often cultivated as an ornamental plant. Historically, this plant was used by Indigenous people as food and medicine, for a range of ailments from skin irritations to cooling inflamed kidneys. 

Hidden Valley is a trove for Great Basin wildflowers. Along the various trails, look for: 

• The deep purple blooms topping Dorr’s sage 

• The beautiful, three-petal Bruneau mariposa lily 

• The Great Basin onion’s star-shaped, tiny purple flowers 

• Bright yellow stalks of flowers from the prince’s plume shrub 

Ballardini Ranch Trails and Sierra Front Trail 

The Ballardini Ranch Trails and adjacent Sierra Front Trail are great places to spot the aforementioned Bruneau mariposa lily. These white flowers are common from May to late June. It’s related to the sego lily, Utah’s state flower. This flowers within this genus are often confused for each other, because both can be found in this region, and both contain a striking, yellow center with a deep purple outline.  

Other notable blooms in the area: 

• The small, light purple to white blooms of the short, soft lupine 

• Palmer’s penstemon 

• The inconspicuous white, daisy-like flower heads of the rough eyelash weed 

• Arrowleaf balsamroot, a cousin of the standard sunflower. 

• The bighead clover’s soft gathering of pink, egg-shaped flowers 

• The twinleaf onion would be a Fourth of July staple, if flowers could be fireworks 

Church’s Pond via Jones-Whites Creek Trail 

Paintbrush is a classic Sierra Nevada flower, and its bright red, orange or pink, spiky-looking stalks are staple of summer. There are many different types of paintbrush, but the one mainly found along the Jones-Whites Creek Trail in Galena Creek Regional Park is the wavyleaf variety. Like all paintbrushes, it is actually a root parasite that can survive with or without a host. They like to partner with sage, so you might find them hiding within sage bushes. They bloom in late June through July and love wide-open spaces with full sun.  

Along this higher slope, flowers bloom a little later, from June to July. Others you can find here include: 

• The bright red snow plant, which has a parasitic relationship to a type of fungi 

• The white-ish to purple flowers lining the hot rock penstemon’s stalks 

• Royal beardtongue, with deep purple, bulbous flowers on a short, three-inch stalk 

• The Mahala mat, a carpet of deep green leaves and lilac-colored flowers 

• Arrowleaf balsamroot 

• Tiny, pale pink flowers crowning the greenleaf manzanita 

One great resource for finding or reporting flowers near you is www.inaturalist.org. To get the best results, make sure to filter searches by “research grade.” 

Also, the Nevada Native Plant Society is a fantastic resource on local flora. The organization hosts plant-finding field trips, including a Tom Cooke Trail field trip from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, May 19. You can learn more at www.nvnps.org or www.facebook.com/NevadaNativePlantSociety.