Superblooms — sometimes it seems like it’s all you’re hearing about these days. And unfortunately, while you’re hearing about the beautiful native wildflower displays and fields of stunning color, you’re probably also hearing about some of the negative side effects of these superbloom crowds: trampled plants, picked flowers, hillsides destroyed by user-created ‘trails.’ And all, it seems, “for the Gram.” 

It can be a major bummer for people who care about the outdoors. Just a few days ago, I was wishing the whole idea of “superblooms” would just go away forever.

A casual browsing of some of the bloom locations or hashtags reveals a lot of very lovely photos that sadly also contain a lot of very bad outdoor behavior. People picking wildflowers for bouquets; people laying in, rolling on, and otherwise destroying the very plants whose beauty inspired them to travel there in the first place. Many times, it’s pretty clear these folks are well off the established trails — if trails exist at all. 

If an influencer with a high number of followers post a photo of themselves rolling around in a beautiful orange carpet of California poppies and destroying or picking them (illegal on all public lands in California as well as on state and county rights of way according to California Penal Code Section 384a), there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to inspire some copycat behavior in their feeds. Following the 2017 superbloom, the after-effects were depressing to say the least, leading to trail and park closures and the destruction of untold amounts of prime habitat for California native plants and animals. In some places, people had destroyed the wildflowers so badly that the areas needed to be reinforced and replanted by hand.

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See the large spot where there are no poppies? Look closely. You'll notice that there were poppies (probably a few days ago), but they were crushed, likely by someone who wanted to get an Instagram photo sitting in a field of flowers. Every time I see a sight like this, I'm disheartened. To those hoping to photograph these beautiful, delicate, California natives, stick to the paths. Loving nature means respecting it. P.S. I'm sure that people who have rolled around in California poppies were unaware of the damage they were causing—damage that could last a few years (that's according to CA parks service, I'm not just pulling information out of thin air)—so this is a cautionary tale for those who are planning a poppy adventure soon.

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Neither Facebook nor Instagram currently has a way to report illegal activity such as this – despite sizable petitions asking them to do so … but that can be an imperfect solution, too. Other than things like graffiti and flagrant vandalism or rule violations, it can be tough to tell via a photograph if someone’s going off-trail or picking flowers or if it’s just a skillful use of angles and perhaps flowers grown in their own yards — not to mention that different states and different types of parks may have different laws surrounding these sorts of actions.

So … how do we, as people who enjoy both visiting and preserving these special places, try to combat this behavior? What is the best way to teach those values to people who may not understand exactly how fragile and important these wildflower blooms are?

I was sort of mulling this over a lot on our Instagram stories this weekend (they’re bookmarked under Wildflowers if you’d like to see) – and our friends at Grown in LA reached out with an idea: why not utilize a hashtag to help focus attention on this side of the superbloom craze and help promote responsible behavior in the outdoors? They pitched #nowildflowerswereharmed and I thought it was a great idea.

When you’re posting photos of wildflowers, I encourage you to use the hashtag #nowildflowerswereharmed when:

  1. You didn’t go off-trail to get the image
  2. You left the flowers and habitat as you found them
  3. You didn’t damage any other trails or habitat to get the image
  4. Ideally, you’re sharing this philosophy in the text of your post, too

You can also use #nowildflowerswereharmed when a certain angle might make it look like you did / are doing one of those things — which can serve as a nice way to help teach some of your followers ways to get incredible photos without having to destroy the very things you’re there to photograph.

We need to remember that these flowers are not here for our likes on social media. They are not here to make us look ‘natural’ or ‘earthy’ or to help our outdoor clothing or gear brands. These places are habitat, first and foremost. It’s food and shelter for hundreds of species, many of which are already under a whole lot of stress. If we want to enjoy incredible and inspiring wildflower displays like these in the future, we’ve got to step up and take better care of these places now.

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Spotted this lovely little California bluebell (Phacelia minor) on this weekend's fieldwork in #griffithpark and had to snap a picture, even though there's a bit of invasive mustard in the shot.⠀ .⠀ As #superbloom2019 #wildflowerseason is just starting to hit, and we're sadly ALREADY seeing photos of fields getting wrecked by the social media types, let's take a second to think about this image. What do we see? What do we not see? What is the message being conveyed?⠀ .⠀ 1. The flower itself is not in a tourist-magnet superbloom hotspot. It's on the side of a fire road in a city park, easily accessible yet totally uncrowded.⠀ 2. There's nothing that suggests anyone had to step on, lie on, or otherwise bother wildlife of any kind.⠀ 3. The photo does not show anyone going off-trail or breaking park rules to get it. This bluebell was shining brightly right on the side of a fire road, with plenty of others nearby to enjoy. You could easily get a macro without your boots ever leaving the trail.⠀ 4. There's actually no people in the photo at all! The flower is what's being spotlighted here, not any one person's manicured "experience" of being in or near them.⠀ 5. I mean just look at that purple, right? The photo doesn't even do it justice if you're asking my honest opinion.⠀ .⠀ Look – I'm not saying you shouldn't post photos of yourself in nature. I LOVE a good summit-celebration pic, or even a good mid-trail "why the heck did I decide to do this to myself?!" photo — I'm just asking folks, ESPECIALLY during this wildflower season, to think about what they're saying with the images they share. .⠀ If you are outside and truly inspired by nature, please do try to show it a little respect while you're out there. Don't go off-trail, don't pick, trample, smother, lie on, or otherwise destroy or alter anything in the landscape that struck you as so beautiful to get a good photo. And even if you don't, ask yourself if someone scrolling through your feed might THINK you did to get that shot.⠀ .⠀ Remember that these places are habitat, first and foremost. It's food and shelter for hundreds of species, and if we want to enjoy it in the future, we've got to take better care of it

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Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





4 Comments

Casey Schreiner Mar 14, 2019 14:03In reply to: Lilly

Ugh, that's really frustrating.

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Lilly Mar 14, 2019 14:03

I just saw a series of posts by Janne Robinson, a Canadian woman who moved to California and has 100k+ followers. When she was called out on the first post, she proceeded to continue posting more photos of herself trampling the super bloom. It sends the worst message and is so irresponsible, and it is aggravating to see someone come to California with a visa only to disrespect the state's conservation laws.

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Casey Schreiner Mar 11, 2019 20:03In reply to: janeray1940

One of the uses of the hashtag is to show off some photos that still look great but were taken carefully. I've even seen a few that show multiple photos -- one that looks like a person is standing in the field of flowers and a second from another angle that shows they're smack dab in the middle of an established trail.

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janeray1940 Mar 11, 2019 19:03

Sadly, it looks like plenty of people have coopted the hashtag in order to get page views. I took a quick glance and saw fair number of of influencer-types off trail, kids sitting in poppy fields, etc. all hashtagged #nowildflowerswere harmed.

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