Photo: Bob Wick / BLM

Here in California, seeds trapped for decades under the hard-baked crust of hot, dry deserts are sprouting en masse following a winter of soaking rains and cool temperatures. A fabled super bloom of desert wildflowers now carpets what are normally brown, barren valleys and hillsides with vibrant fields of orange poppies, purple sand verbena and yellow brittlebush.

But soon after the colorful phenomena hit Instagram and Snapchat, hoards of iPhone-toting tourists overwhelmed the fields of flowers, many of which are a quick drive up the highway from major cities. After all, what makes a better backdrop for a trendy fashion shoot or a standout selfie than a once-in-a-decade art show by none other than Mother Nature herself?

“This was the first super bloom where we experienced the power of social media and the Internet,” Kathy Dice, the superintendent at Anza-Borrego State Park in San Diego, told the LA Times. “This really drove our numbers beyond anything.”

Unfortunately, all those petal-peepers aren’t as well-behaved and respectful of the desert’s fragile ecology as they should be. A quick peek at Instagram (try searching #superbloom) will expose their offenses: standing or laying in flowers; plucking blossoms to build bouquets; and straying off trail in search of the perfect shot.

Part of a popular wildflower trail at Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County even had to be closed for a short period before it was reopened with reduced hours, extra staff and new signage. The area is also an ecological reserve that harbors 32 species, many of which can suffer from the sudden onslaught of human activity.

In the short term, these transgressions mean patches of flattened blossoms and less-spectacular views for others. But in the long term, seeds crushed by overeager visitors could affect future blooms, forcing officials to reseed certain areas.

“It’s upsetting to see the destruction,” Alex Marks, an environmental specialist called to Diamond Valley to assess the damage, told KQED News. “‘Cause you can stand back and you can see the beauty of it without getting so close and trampling everything.”

Other popular spots, like Lancaster’s famous poppy fields and the orange hillsides of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, are also worse for wear.

This year's spectacular superbloom of wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument in California's Central Valley. (Photo: Bob Wick / BLM)

This year’s spectacular superbloom of wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument in California’s Central Valley. (Photo: Bob Wick / BLM)

So what’s a wildflower fiend to do? Etiquette is mostly common sense. LAist’s recommendations are a good place to start:

  1. Don’t pick flowers. It’s not illegal everywhere, and rules vary from place to place and species to species, but in general, it’s a good idea to let mother nature do her thing. Plucking too many blossoms can even cause an area to go barren in future years.
  2. Stay on the trail. Wandering through fields flattens flowers, crushes seeds and, perhaps most importantly, encourages others to do the same. These delicate ecosystems can’t handle all that foot traffic.
  3. Pack it out. You’d think it goes without saying, but litter continues to be a problem, even at some of the most picturesque vistas.
  4. Educate others. A lot of people, especially those who spend most of their time in the city, might not be wise to these rules. If you see someone trampling wildflowers, let a park ranger or other official know. You can also politely explain the situation to the offending party if you feel comfortable doing so.

Remember: Leave it better than you found it and we’ll all be better off in the long run.

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