Tips for wildflower hunting

If you are seeking wildflowers this season, here are 9 tips to keep in mind!

Wildflowers are enticing treasures for wilderness lovers each year. They come in countless varieties and yet can be so fleeting. They sprinkle wild landscapes with color and send subtle fragrances into the nearby air.

Wildflowers beckon photographers and artists looking for fresh inspiration. They are treats for anyone visiting wild lands during the warmer seasons.

1. Explore wild places near you. 

The U.S. Forest Service also has great recommendations and National Wildlife Refuges can be awesome places where plant life flourishes.

2. Choose trails in valleys or on sunny, south facing slopes. 

It is important to stay on the trail too, so flowers can continue to flourish off-trail. Follow "leave-no-trace tips."

3. Confirm the best times of year to visit. 

Plants generally begin to bloom as early as March or April in more southern locations, while those in the north may not bud until May or June. A good rule of thumb is to visit before tree foliage begins to completely shade the ground. Elevation makes a big difference too, with alpine meadows often having brief blooming from late July to early August. Deserts are unpredictable, but March or April are recommended.

To be sure, you can call ahead to your local national forest, national park, or cooperative extension office or look for reports online. The U.S. Forest Service's interactive wildflower map is a fantastic resource for finding bloom time and wildflower events near you.

Here are more resources for wildflower viewing by region: Rocky Mountain RegionPacific Northwest; Intermountain regionSouthwestern regionCalifornia/Pacific SouthwestEastern regionSouthern region.

4. Venture out immediately after rain. 

This is especially important if you are in a usually-dry area. Drought can decrease the number and diversity of wildflowers, so you may need to scour if that is the case.

5. Where there are flowers, there are insects. 

Wear repellant or long-sleeves and pants. You may also want to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

6. Become familiar with the most conspicuous, common blooms. 

The southwest has bright yellow Mexican poppies and red Indian paintbrushes. In the pacific northwest, monkeyflower and mountain lupine are often-sighted. 

7. Bring a field guide and other flower-finding gear.

In addition to your camera, plan to carry a photo-filled field guide or app to learn about what you find. Look for one that is appropriate for your state or region (Washingtonnortheastern U.Ssouthern appalachia, etc.) or the ecological area of interest (desert areas, for example). 

Avid wildflower seekers will also pack a magnifying glass for closer inspection of petals, leaves and other tiny flower parts.

8. Always observe leave no trace principles to ensure lands remain truly wild. 

Resist the urge to pick wildflowers - you actually need a permit to do so.

9. Grow a "surprise garden" from the seeds you pick up on your hiking boots. 

This trick works if you end up walking through mud on your adventure. The forest service offers instructions for preserving flowers and making perfumes as well - but only for flowers you pick at home.