Muir Beach Coastal Bluff Wildflowers

                             (30 plants)

Bush Lupine
How to find your plant
The hike from Muir Beach to Pirates Cove is a favorite for me because of the rough, wild California coast, and the amazingly beautiful wildflowers and horsetails.

However, this hike requires some steep climbing in the beginning, and you should use your judgment about whether to descend to the beach at the end.

Start at the Muir Beach parking lot, and walk south (on a dirt road or on a trail at the edge of the cliffs) to the top of the coastal bluffs, about 1/2 a mile south. Continue south on a coastal trail for a mile or two with stunning views down into the rocky Pacific. When you get to a low valley, a small trail leads steeply down to the beach next to a seasonal stream. If you can handle the descent, there are lots of nice shrubs and wildflowers you'll only see in this part of the walk.

This list ignores the beach plants, both around Muir Beach and at Pirates Cove, and focuses on the many flowers you'll find along the coastal bluff trail.

Google Maps link to Muir Beach parking lot

Perennial Sweetpea
Lathyrus latifolius
  • Blooms Apr - Sept
  • Tendrils help the vine cling to other plants.
  • Seeds like a pea pod.
  • Found in wetlands and moist environments.
  • CA not native

Striking spikes of magenta flowers.

Stems are stiff, often with half inch "wings". Leaves have parallel veins.

Vines often lie on other plants, and create a showy display.
California Poppy
Eschscholzia californica
  • Blooms Feb - Sep
  • 4 large petals are orange (inland form) to yellow (coastal form)
  • A flat disk (torus) at the base of the petals is distinctive.
  • Widely distributed and quite common in grassy areas.
  • CA native, and the state flower

Bud and bloom. Notice the sheath covering the early bud.

Note the low grey leaves, and yellow flowers with orange centers of this coastal variety.

California Poppies fill grassy areas with an orange display from April to July.
Bull Thistle
Cirsium vulgare
  • Blooms June - Sept
  • Spear-shaped spiny leaves.along the length of the stem.
  • Pear-shaped spiny flower base.
  • Dead flowers with many spines stay on the plant for a long time.
  • CA not native. Modestly invasive.

Pear-shaped spiny bulge below flower.

Flower 1 to 2 inches across, pink or purple.

Large fluffy seed structures.
Blue-Eyed Grass
Sisyrinchium bellum
  • Blooms Mar - May
  • A member of the Iris family.
  • Tubular flower has a bright yellow center and darker purple lines extending outward, making a great target for pollinators.
  • Grasslike leaves.
  • CA native. Found only in western North America.

Blue to violet petals and a golden yellow center, to guide pollinators in.

Leaves are long and thin, with parallel veins.

Seed develops below the flower.
Checker Bloom
Sidalcea malviflora
  • Blooms May - Aug
  • Flower petals pink, strongly veined, squared off at the end, 1/2" to 1" long each.
  • A perennial flower, often with a woody base.
  • Leaves vary greatly, with basal leaves fairly round and upper leaves deeply cut.
  • Found in grasslands, woodlands and scrub to 7,500 feet.
  • CA native

Five pink petals with radiating lines on each petal.

Basal leaves round and not deeply cut.

Deeply cut leaves.
Oxalis pes-caprae
  • Blooms all year - Jan - Dec
  • Thin leaves in 3s. Heart shaped.
  • Does well in moist, acidic soil.
  • CA not native. Moderately invasive.

5 overlapping petals with a green center.

Bright yellow Sourgrass stands out, especially in early spring.

Leaves in 3s - heart shape. Several flowers at the end of a short stalk.
Vine Morning Glory
Calystegia purpurata ssp. purpurata
  • Blooms Apr - Sept
  • Funnel-shaped white to pink flowers.
  • Leaves thin heart shape.
  • A vine, growing below 1,000 feet.
  • CA not native

Funnel-shaped blossom, white to pink, with darker lines near the folds.

Leaves thin heart shaped.

Running vines. This species is not hairy.
Hirschfeldia incana
  • Blooms Jan - Dec
  • Leaves clasp around the central stem.
  • Long narrow seed pods.
  • Disturbed areas under 5,000 feet.
  • CA not native. Highly invasive.

4 separate bright yellow petals.

Flowers in clusters at the end of rather bare stems.

Grows to 6 feet. Large lobed leaves at the bottom, smaller leaves along stem.
Wild Cucumber
Marah fabacea
  • Blooms Mar - Apr
  • A vine, often climbing 15 or 20 feet high, with curlycue tendrils for gripping.
  • The root, shaped like a huge carrow, can be 5 feet long and weigh many pounds.
  • Found in shrubby areas with some moisture.
  • CA native

A vine with many small white flowers, 5 or 6 petals.

Many tendrils off the stem make it a great climber.

Fruit is large, about 2 inches across, with spines.
Sticky Monkey Flower
Mimulus aurantiacus
  • Mar - Aug
  • Orange trumpet flowers with green around the base.
  • Long narrow leaves, about 3 inches long with strong vein markings.
  • Stems can be woody.
  • CA native

Orange trumpet flowers protected by green leafy bracts..

Leaves are long and narrow, with a strong central vein.

Shrub to 4 or 5 feet, covered in flowers, often makes a patch of orange on the hillside.
Silver Bush Lupine
Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons
  • Blooms Apr - Jul
  • Many purple, blue and white flowers arranged in whorls at the end of a stem.
  • The white in the flowers turns purple when the nectar is gone.
  • Hairy leaflets covered in dense matted hairs, giving a silvery appearance.
  • Fuzzy pea pods 2-4 inches May - Aug.
  • Sandy and rocky areas to 6,500 feet.
  • CA native

Pea-shape flower, blue and white.

Leaves are fingerlike. They're covered in dense hair, which gives them a silvery appearance.

Flower spikes can be up to 12 inches tall.
Beach Strawberry
Fragaria chiloensis
  • Blooms Feb - Mar
  • White flower with many yellow stamens.
  • Shiny, leathery leaves in 3s. Densly hairy below.
  • Strawberries carry their seeds outside the fruit!
  • Found in sandy places along the coast.
  • CA native

5-part white flower. 3-part leaves.

Grows prostrate - low to the ground.

Small strawberries.
Broad Leaf Filaree
Erodium botrys
  • Blooms Feb - May
  • 5 lavender petals with purple lines, often forming a bowl, with yellow-topped stamens in the center.
  • Leaves hairy, fairly wide with lots of lobes.
  • Fruits grow over 4 inches long!
  • Common in clay or gravel soil.
  • CA not native.

5 lavender petals, purple lines, yellow center.

Wide leaves with central vein. Edges are lobed.

Fruits up to 4 inches tall, and pointed.
Bristly Ox Tongue
Helminthotheca echioides
  • Blooms Jun - Dec
  • Dandelion-like flowers
  • Leaves have large bumps on them.
  • Lots of seed in the fall - you'll see it blowing in the air.
  • CA not native. Slightly invasive.

Leaves have bumps. Dandelion-like seeds.

Dandelion-like flowers are surrounded by bristly green bracts.

Thorny, bristly leaves. Grows 6 to 8 feet tall.
Taraxacum officinale
  • Blooms Feb - Mar
  • Dandelion comes from the French phrase "dent de lion", which means lion's tooth - a reference to its jagged leaves.
  • Stem does not branch. Not hairy. Under 1 foot.
  • Disturbed areas.
  • CA not native

Many yellow petals. Notice phyllaries below the flower pointing backward.

Leaves with backwards-pointing lobes.

Brown seeds are attached to a white oval receptacle. Each seed has its own parachute. Click photo to zoom.
California Groundsel
Senecio aronicoides
  • Blooms Apr to July
  • Flower looks like a Dandelion that's not going to bloom.
  • Plant can look woolly or cobwebby.
  • Occurs in many habitats.
  • CA native

Yellow flowers without petals (ray flowers).

Many yellow-orange flowers at the top of a stem.

Leaves triangular with curling, rough edges.
Cow Parsnip
Heracleum maximum
  • Blooms Jun - Jul
  • White flower heads look like a flat-topped umbrella
  • Individual tiny flowers are grouped in little balls
  • Very large leaves
  • Flowers turn to sunflower-like seeds in August
  • CA native

Cow Parsnip stands out because of its size and bright white flowers.

Cow parsnip grows to 6 feet or more.

Big leaves, up to 12" across. Also hollow stems.
English Plantain
Plantago lanceolata
  • Blooms Mar - Aug
  • Many tiny flowers in a head at the top of the stem.
  • Basal, long, thin leaves.
  • Common in disturbed soil.
  • CA not native

Many flowers radiate from the flower head. Lower flowers are mature, while upper flowers have not yet formed.

Basal leaves with parallel main veins.

Flower heads on the end of longish stems, above large, thin, leaves.
Scarlet Pimpernel
Lysimachia arvensis
  • Blooms Mar - Sep
  • Orange, pink, red flower
  • Five petals
  • Opposite leaves
  • CA not native

A small, orange flower, perhaps 1/2 inch across. At first it looks like just a small orange speck, but when you look closer...

Opposite leaves.

Grows low to the ground.
Wight's Indian Paintbrush
Castilleja wightii
  • Blooms Mar - Aug
  • Flowers hairy.
  • Grows on the roots of other plants.
  • Found in coastal areas
  • CA native

Orange, red or yellow flowers.

A spike of flowers at the top of a robust stem.

Here's a red bloom, on a coastal bluff.
Coast Buckwheat
Eriogonum latifolium
  • Blooms Jul - Sep
  • Flowers in little pink and white balls at the top of stems.
  • Leaves oval, smooth edged, and hairy. They sometimes curl up.
  • Leaves spread out at the base of the plant.
  • CA native

Small balls made up of many pink, white and green flowers.

Individual flowers are very small, with 5 petals in a cup and purple-tipped stamens.

Smooth-edged fuzxy leaves mostly near the ground.
Crocosmia Xcrocosmiiflora
  • Blooms Jun - Sep
  • A slightly invasive garden escapee.
  • Long sword-shaped leaves, shorter than the flowering stem.
  • Red and yellow flowers on tall stems.
  • CA not native

Striking orange and yellow flowers on tall stems.

Stands 3 or 4 feet tall.

Sword-shaped stiff leaves.
California Everlasting
Pseudognaphalium californicum
  • Blooms Jan - Jul
  • Grows to 3 feet
  • Aromatic
  • Thin, long, wooly leaves grow along the stem.
  • CA native

Flowers have white papery petals (bracts) at the base and yellow and green structures in the center.

Flowers turn papery and browner with age, and can last well into the fall.

Leaves are thin, woolly, and alternate.
Scabiosa atropurpurea
  • Blooms Mar - Nov
  • Garden escapes, these plants are easy to spot.
  • Grow in clumps.
  • Not CA native

Many small flowers organized in a head. 5 tiny petals each.

Pincushion flowers make round balls at the to of the stem.

Grows in disturbed areas.
Himalayan Blackberry
Rubus armeniacus
  • Blooms Apr - Aug
  • Canes grow for several years. The first year does not produce flowers. Second year branches do.
  • Stem is 5-sided with large spines. Our local native Blackberry (Rubus ursinus has round stems with many tiny spines.
  • Leaves are dark green above and pale below.
  • CA not native. The CIPC rates its potential impact on native systems as high.

Flower about 1 inch wide, with 5 petals and many dark-tipped stamens.

Leaves in patterns of 5 the first year, and in groups of 3 on second year side branches.

Large thorns spaced out on a thick (up to 1 inch wide) cane. (Native blackberry has smaller thorns close together).
Footsteps of Spring
Sanicula arctopoides
  • Blooms Feb - May
  • Low flowers resemble "footsteps" on the ground.
  • Common near the ocean up and down the West Coast.
  • CA native

Flower head full of tiny yellow flowers. Below the flower are prominent pointed bracts.

Below the flowers are heavily notched leaves.

Plant grows low to the ground.
Italian Thistle
Carduus pycnocephalus
  • Blooms Feb - July.
  • Grassy areas and the edge of woods.
  • Bulge below flower is a long oval with big spines
  • Base leaves all around the stem are quite long.(10": to 14")
  • Flat leaves.
  • CA not native. Moderately invasive.

Relatively flat leaves with spines on the tops of each lobe.

Stems winged with spines.

2 to 5 flower heads per clusters
Lonicera involucrata var. ledebourii
  • Blooms Apr - Jun
  • Eye-catching red flowers and berries.
  • Woody shrub can grow to 15 feet.
  • Found in wet soil along streams.
  • Coastal California and southern Oregon
  • CA native

Twin flowers.

Twin berries coming from the same spot on the stem. Leaves oval shaped.

Showy red flowers along a shrubby stem.
Fiddle Dock
Rumex pulcher
  • Blooms May - Sep
  • Erect stem growing to 2 feet from a thick taproot.
  • Leaves up to 6 inches, grow in unusual shapes
  • Disturbed soil
  • Not CA native

Clusters of flowers close to the stem.

Seeds give a distinctive shape.

Leaves sometimes have a fiddle shape.
Clifornia Horkelia
Horkelia californica
  • Blooms Apr - Jul
  • White flowers at the top of a heavy, erect stalk.
  • Five separated petals.
  • Leaves grow from the base.
  • CA native. Found only in California.

5 separated white petals. Thick pointed green sepals show between the petals.

Leaves are hairy, rounded, and toothed.

Leaves grow to almost 2 feet. Plant grows to 3 feet.