Farewell to Spring
Farewell-to-Spring, Clarkia williamsonii, is a wildflower that's aptly named as it
blooms right when summer comes to the western Sierra foothills. Right now the
foothills are turning from their characteristic springtime green color to their
summertime gold color. When Farewell-to-Spring blooms it can cover an entire hillside
turning it from gold to pink! It is one flower that I have grown to love since moving to
the Springville area two-and-a-half years ago.
There are 72 species and subspecies of Clarkias and they are in the evening primrose
family, Onagraceae. Onagra, I had to look this one up, means food of the Onager.
Okay, so what's an Onager? It's a donkey like animal native to deserts in the Middle
East. And I gather it apparently likes to eat evening primroses that grow there. This
is indeed a family of plants that are distributed worldwide and their flowers typically
have 4 petals and 4 sepals. Their seeds are very small and their leaves are generally
lanceleote in shape and in an opposite configuration.
All Clarkias have four petals that are generally pink to purple in color, though they can
also be blue or white. The shape of their petals can differ quite dramatically,
however, from broad and fan-shaped to slender and diamond-shaped. Clarkia
williamsonii flowers are fan-shaped and overall the flower is shaped like a bowl and it
grows on a stalk that's from 1 to 3 feet tall. It is common in the western foothills and
lower forest areas of the Sierra Nevada. It is native and also endemic to California
which means it is found nowhere else.
Like many plants there is a story behind this pretty flower's scientific name. The
Genus Clarkia was named for Captain William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark
expedition to the mouth of the Columbia River in 1804 to 1806. Botanical discovery
was of course one of the key goals of the Expedition and they sent over 100 dried
botanical specimens to President Jefferson in spring of 1805 and brought even more
back in 1807. Botanist Frederick Pursh later described many of these plants in a
Flora he published in England in 1814. Pursh's Flora included ample acknowledgement
of Lewis and Clark's discoveries; in fact, he created two new genera named after
them, Lewisia and Clarkia.
Williamsonii was named after Lt. Robert Williamson, leader of a railway survey in the
mid-eighteenth century. In 1853 he led a party looking for a railway route from the
desert across the southern Sierra Nevada and the mountains of Southern California.
He scouted out Walker and Tehachapi Passes and eventually located two routes, one
over Cajon Pass and the other through Soledad Canyon. Mt. Williamson on the Angeles
National Forest and Mt. Williamson on the Inyo National Forest (the 2nd highest peak
in Calfornia) were also named for him.
Clarkia williamsonii is also sometimes called Spring Beauty, Godetia, or Sierra
Fairy-Fan. Its small seeds are edible and may be eaten raw or after grinding. Right
now they can be seen covering many hills in the Springville area; but one of the best
places I've encountered this year for seeing Farewell-to-Spring is on County Road
M-56 from Fountain Springs to California Hot Springs. For miles and miles this flower
lines the road along with foothill poppies, caterpillar plant, Mariposa lilies, and Chinese
Springville is also home to a rare species of Clarkia, and you can probably guess its
scientific name, Clarkia springvillensis. This flower is only found in Tulare County and
it is threatened by urban development, livestock grazing, and roadway maintenance
activities. Here is a link to find out more about this rare flower...