Early in California's history, Spanish explorers returned to Europe to tell of encounters with a land of fire. Their stories described hills and valleys ablaze with shimmering brilliant orange flowers as far as the eye could see. They referred to California as “`la tierra del fuego”. Early European settlers documented springtime California blanketed with enormous pastures of wildflowers from San Francisco to San Diego. For generations poets, writers, and painters had romanticized California as “an Eden” for its landscape that boggled the imagination and stirred the heart. Late-nineteenth century Southern Californians honored their wildflower heritage, celebrating with weekend wildflower parties and parades with flower-covered horses and buggies.
With its distinct mediterranean climate and varied landscape, California’s native flora has evolved a unique concentration of endemic plants at such a global scale that it is scientifically recognized and known as the “California Floristic Province” (CFP). The CFP has been designated as one of Earth’s biological hotspots due to its diversity and endangered status. Of all these plant treasures, none is more mercurial and fleeting than California’s springtime wildflower displays. Evolved in response to an unforgiving environment with inconstant seasons, these dense floral blooms are similar to blooms of ocean plankton, deploying a strategy of sheer numbers to ensure survival of the few. Additionally, adaptable seeds able to survive boom or bust seasons with extended droughts have further refined this genetic pool. After eons of distillations and localized adaptations, California is blessed with hills, valleys, and canyons of wonder; with a brief flash of life so intense that it defies imagination.
Desert wildflower seeds may remain dormant for decades being blown and moved about with the desert winds. Factors such as changes in cryptobiotic soils and fluctuations in insect species may play a role as much as seasonal rains and temperatures. They are a phenomenon requiring exacting conditions with many years passing before the next event. The varieties and colors of flowers that do bloom are even unique, never the same as any before, thus no two carpet blooms are alike, the rarest and largest of them visible from space.
At sunset, invisible flowers such as Evening Snow appear like magic out of nowhere as large white snow drifts then disappear by dawn. Conversely at sunrise, sleeping California Poppies quickly open with the sun’s warming zenith then slowly close up towards dusk. These "ephemeral flowers" live fast and furious before evaporating quickly into the arid landscape with warming temperatures and drying winds.
Very few people have the fortune to witness one of these large-scale events, as much a physical sensation as a visual one. I’ve strived to document this rarity of nature with a visual style and emotion that draws the viewer into this scenery of surreal beauty giving them an opportunity to soak in these fleeting moments of time and space.
This small sampling represents a larger body of work titled “Feral Flowers” that consists around 180 selected images of rare carpet blooms and is 24 years in the making. "Feral", ancient Latin, described in the dictionary as meaning "of the wild", is I feel an appropriate tag. These highly evolved plant communities are very dependant on the wildness for their existence. Very few of these plants will grow in cultivation.
The colors in these landscapes are real, some have only been enhanced with a polarizer filter, a time honored technique used by many classic B&W landscapist such as Ansel Adams. Photographed on film, all images are scanned and printed by myself true to the images' original source with an Epson 7600 on archival papers with pigment inks. Reviews of original slides for their authenticity are welcome.
A final thought:
In the late 1800’s California was still world famous for it’s ephemeral desert carpet blooms. Miles of flowers bloomed from Glendale thru Pasadena into Monrovia, once rural areas which have now become urban sprawl. Currently what little is left of "la tierra del fuego" is literally disappearing into history never to be seen again. I am sad to say a majority of the treasures shown in this portfolio were taken on land now threatened with development.
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