The Golden State has the most diverse flora in North America, a legacy of its rich Mediterranean climate areas that comprise much of the region. Early summer is the perfect time to enjoy the many wonderful lilies that flower now along with beautiful Calochortus, whilst the extraordinary carnivorous plant Darlingtonia californica chokes bogs with countless serpent-like pitchers. Various Penstemon stately Veratrum, fiery Castilleja and drifts of silvered lupines colour the slopes and edges of the rich coniferous forests. The latter include of course the magnificent redwoods of the coastal region, truly remarkable trees that create otherworldly forests of towering giants - big enough even for America! And seeing the majority of these plants is very easy - they almost all grow alongside roads and tracks making for a relaxed floral experience.
A tour with Chris Gardner
Day 1 Arrive in San Francisco (3 July)
After the long flight west we will overnight at nearby airport hotel.
Day 2 Salt Point
Following the indented Pacific coastline north we will see the first lily species with both Lilium maritimum and populations of L. pardalinum two striking orange-flowered species in flower at Salt Point and nearby areas. A walk along the cliff tops in the late afternoon will find mats of Polygonum paronychium, dwarf Castilleja mendocinesis, the creamy heads of Cirsium quercitorum and Erysimum franciscanum. Overnight Fort Bragg.
Day 3 Shasta Trinity
We continue north, where rock outcrops have Triteliea laxa, Dudleya farinosa and Eriogonum latifolium. The lovely Lilium rubescens is a possiblity in wooded enclaves as we progress. Stopping to look at the interesting dune complex near Eureka, the sands are smothered in flowery masses of Eriogonum latifolium and pretty sulphurous globes of Abronia latifolia along with various other interesting littoral plants such as Tanacetum camphoratum and Calystegia soldanella and the dwarf paintbrush; Castilleja exserta subps. latifolia. For those with the desire this is your chance to dip your toe in the Pacific. Heading inland woodland areas have a strong population of the gorgeous pink-flowered Lilium kelloggii, each flower with outsize red anthers that lure huge swallowtail butterflies to pollinate them. Overnight Arcata
Day 4 Onion Mountain
A long but rewarding day trip takes us inland to the botanically rich Onion Mountain. Climbing into the hills we pass stands of the impressive, leafy Aralia californica growing on the edge of tall forests. Further up and the lovely Lilium rubescens is plentiful, the white flowers ageing to blush pink creating a delightful combination. There are patches of Apocynum androsaemifolium and then in rockier chaparral both the cherry-red and peachy-cream forms of beautiful Lilium bolanderi. With luck the first sweet-scented flowers will have opened on tall L. washingtonianum subsp. purpurascens and there is the pretty green-tipped cerise bulb Dichelostemma ida-maia too. Reaching to ridge top both Rhododendron macrophylla and fragrant R. occidentale will be in flower among diverse coniferous forests that fringe Onion Lake where a peculiar assemblage of Lilium pardalinum hybrids grows. There are fine views across the Coast Ranges in all directions. Depending on the season, the large population of bear grass may be on flower too. Overnight Arcata
Day 5 Klamath coast
The remaining stretch of Pacific Coast takes us past incredible populations of thousands of bright orange Lilium columbianum that line the road, in fact the most lilies anyone is likely to see in one place. They grow on the edge of the magnificent Coastal Redwood Sequoia sempervirens forests that dominate some areas. We will visit one particularly impressive tract and spend time among these giants before continuing north. Overnight Crescent City
Day 6 Klamath forests
After admiring another stunning stand of redwoods we will climb into the adjacent hills to search for Lilium kelloggii, which here has some very pale, near white forms, as well as L. bolanderi and L. washingtonianum subsp. purpurascens. Recently burnt areas have some fine Veratrum insolitum and there are fragrant Philadelphus lewisii, mats of lavender Penstemon davisiana mingling with scarlet paintbrushes and the fleshy rosettes of Lewisia cotyledon cling to the fragile rocks. Descending, we'll visit a small bog community where Lilium pardalinum subsp. vollmeri, grows among the remarkable carnivorous plant, Darlingtonia californica. Overnight Crescent City.
Day 7 Klamath forests
We traverse the Klamath forests briefly entering Oregon where we will see various colonies of Lilium pardalinum subsp. vollmeri growing with the fuzzy pink spikes of Spiraea douglasii and tall Rudbeckia californica. Open areas of stark serpentine are filled with various flowering buckwheats and the road passes through a huge tract of recently burned forest, but nature abhors a vacuum and these stark areas are being quickly recolonised with drifts of fiery Castilleja applegatei and Aquilegia formosa, pink Sidalcea, coyote mint and lovely Phlox adsurgens. L. washingtonianum subsp. purpurascens is not far away with fine specimens on either side of the pass. Seeps on the far side though are crowded with masses displays of impressive golden Lilium pardalinum subsp. wigginsii. From here we will continue all the way to the foot of towering 4,322-metre Mount Shasta. Overnight Mount Shasta
Day 8 Scott Mountain
West of Mount Shasta, the diverse Scott Mountains rise up and we will spend the day exploring the flowery bogs and slopes of this area. Here Lilium pardalinum subsp. shastense commonly grows alongside Darlingtonia californica, although we will see bog filled with many hundreds of the latter in an extraordinary assemblage of cobra-like pitchers. Other delights include fiery Ipomopsis aggregata, the bristling yellow flowers of Mentzelia laevicaulis, the woolly-stemmed Cirsium occidentale, golden spikes of Narthecium californicum and the slender white orchid Platanthera dilitata. Overnight Mount Shasta.
Day 9 Lassen NP
In the morning we will drive out to see the beautiful pink vases of Calochortus macrocarpus one of the later-flowering members of this charismatic genus. From their location various cinder cones and the bulk of Mount Shasta are visible, but we will see another aspect of the unstable ground beneath our feet. Moving onto to Lassen National Park (seeing more Lilium pardalinum on the way) we climb onto the flanks of Lassen Peak to a geothermal area with blue pool, bubbling mud and hissing steam vents amidst barren alabaster and ochre slopes. Around are drifts of silvery leaved Lupinus albifrons and pretty tufts of cerise-pink Penstemon newberryi too. Time permitting, for those with the energy there will be the option of undertaking a second walk to an area with Veratrum californicum, Aquilegia formosa, Aconitum columbianum and if the snows were generous a few late Erythronium purpurascens.
Day 10 To San Francisco for flights (12 July)
Morning departure for the transfer to San Francisco airport (4 hours).
Anyone wishing to extend the tour to see Lilium parvum and possibly L. humboldtii in the Sierra Nevada should contact us for prices.