A field of yellow lupine
A superbloom doesn’t happen often, but when it does you can see it from space. Seeds that have long lain dormant in typically dry swaths of California soils explode in a wild splash of hues during unusually wet periods. And boy has 2023 been unusually wet! The stunning result in many places is a landscape painted with broad strokes of eye-popping color as drought-adapted species awaken from slumber.
While a superbloom is a natural phenomenon that occurs when conditions are just right, a company called Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) is working to give nature a nudge in a colorful direction following removal of the four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. Left untouched, the bare soil and sediment left exposed when reservoirs are drawn down would quickly be covered in star thistle and other noxious weeds. RES, the contractor for restoration of the Klamath following dam removal, will be planting billions of native seeds in the footprint of each reservoir, often sowing seeds as the water level recedes.
One of the 98 varieties RES will plant is Lupinus microcarpus densiflorus, a vivid yellow lupine.
We caught up with Gwen Santos, who oversees the replanting program, for a Q&A following her visit to a field of yellow lupine grown for RES by Patrick Reynolds and the team at Heritage Growers in Colusa, California.
Reconnect Klamath: Why are you growing this particular plant?
Gwen Santos: This field is for the Klamath project. It is an annual plant that will provide incredible ground cover and habitat. Lupines are in the pea family and are great nitrogen fixers, which means they convert nutrients in the soils to useable forms for other plants. They are what is known as an ecosystem engineer.
RK: Where will you plant it?
GS: Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs in Siskiyou County.
RK: How much is being grown for the project?
GS: This field represents approximately 2.5 acres. But this is only a small fraction of the program. We have been working with about six native plant nurseries specializing in commercial seed amplification over the last four years to grow as many seeds as we can with the goal of having enough to plant the entire project area twice if that becomes necessary due to fire, flood or other factors that impact the first planting. Redundancy is a safeguard.
RK: Will it look like a solid field of yellow?
GS: No, we will mix this species in with other seeds as part of what we call the pioneer seed mix.
RK: We’ve heard some concern from the community that the area will look blighted after the dams are removed.
GS: Depending on the weather conditions and other factors, we could see green sprouts over thousands of acres within 30 to 45 days after planting.
You can never count on what the weather conditions will be in a given year, but under the right conditions we could see an explosion of color in the spring season. We could have our own small version of a superbloom. So stay tuned!