All seasons must reach their zenith, and spring is no exception. To prove it, I was sitting chewing on a pencil in the Sutro Stewards’ nursery last week when I heard a shriek from Liza, our nursery manager. It wasn’t a rodent. Liza found some Clarkia blooming. To those in the know, Clarkia (named for William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition) is also called “Farewell to Spring.” It has a tendency to bloom just when summer is about to arrive.
Clarkia is an annual flowering plant and a member of the evening primrose family (Onagraceae, pronounced oh-na-gray-see-eye or oh-na-gray-see-ee). There are over forty species of Clarkia classified, the species found blooming in the Sutro Stewards’ nursery is Clarkia rubicunda, also called Reddened clarkia or Ruby chalice clarkia. Almost all species are found in the western U.S. while some species, like Clarkia rubicunda are found only in California. Clarkia amoena, another common species, can be found in coastal hills and mountains from British Columbia south to the San Francisco Bay Area, while Clarkia purpurea, another San Francisco resident, can be found as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Baja California and in Arizona. Clarkia franciscana, also known as Presidio Clarkia is a rare species and is listed as federally endangered. Only two populations are known to exist. One is at the Presidio of San Francisco found in serpentine soils and the other three occurrences have been reported in Oakland in the East Bay hills.
Clarkia is used by Native California Tribes like the Miwok who were known to parch and grind the seeds for food. The seeds can either be eaten dried, cooked into a form resembling oatmeal, or blended with water to make a beverage. Clarkia flowers are pale pink to pale purple and typically have 4 petals and 4 sepals. Their seeds are very small and their leaves are generally lance-shaped and in an opposite configuration. They bloom from the beginning of summer to the beginning of autumn. Clarkia grows well in either full sun or partial shade, and are generally drought tolerant. Bees and butterflies are attracted to this poppy-like beauty, making it a good choice for butterfly gardens. Clarkia is easy to grow in the garden and seeds are best scattered in the fall for a spring bloom.
1) Clarkia; Clarkia rubicunda; Clarkia amoena; Clarkia purpurea; Clarkia Franciscana. Wikipedia 2016; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarkia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarkia_rubicunda; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarkia_amoena; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarkiapurpurea; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarkia_franciscana ;
2) Presidio Clarkia. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/nature/presidio-clarkia.htm
3) Clarkia, a Native Flower with a History; The Granada Native Garden Newsletter; May 4, 2014; https://granadanativegarden.org/2014/05/04/clarkia-a-native-flower-with-a-history/
4) Plant Fact Sheet: Farewell to Spring, Clarkia amoena; USDA/NRCS, October 2012
5) How to Grow Clarkia Plants. Gardener’s HQ; http://www.gardenershq.com/Clarkia-farewell-spring.php
6) Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary; Daniel E. Moerman; Timber Press, 2010
7) Farewell to Spring. Clarkia amoena; California Native Plant Society; http://calscape.org/Clarkia-amoena-(Farewell-To-Spring)