You might be noticing an orange tint to the hills in Orange County these days.  Maybe you, too, have Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) gracing your nearby hills.

Monkeyflower hill with Lemonadeberry and coastal sage scrub habitatIn San Juan Capistrano, on May 19, 2011, a hike starting on the Cerro Rebal trail brought us up close and personal with some great displays of monkeyflower in coastal sage scrub habitat.  In my experience it is this profuse only in good rain years and when we get rain fairly late in the season.

Some observers might look up into the hills and think mustard is blooming, but monkeyflowers are not the sulphur yellow color of mustard, but have the overall effect of a  light apricot/melon color.  The individual bushes can vary in flower color quite a bit from a reddish brick all the way to a very pale yellow/almost white.

This is possibly the most spectacular mass display of native flowers in San Juan Capistrano, visible from the freeways and local subdivisions.  The flowers are even more beautiful and interesting up close.  They are very prominent in several places on the Cerro Rebal trail, and onward along the Forster Canyon and Patriot Trails that lead to the "Flagpole".  On the final approach to the flagpole there is a great view across the canyon to the south (towards the ocean) of a wonderful hill with fantastic undisturbed coastal sage scrub, dominated by the monkeyflower.  These trails are steep in places but the paths are smooth and not rocky or difficult.

Monkeyflowers are popular with hummingbirds, and we also incidentally saw a Northern Harrier on our hike, swooping and calling in the hills.

One of the biggest threats to this coastal sage scrub habitat is invasive plants.  I saw 4 different kinds of invasive thistle thriving up there in the hills.  This is a big year for Italian thistle all over southern Orange County, which is not a good thing.

We still have a special natural heritage in San Juan Capistrano and in Orange County that is worth protecting.  Depending on weather, the bloom may be fading out within the next couple of weeks, and I hope you get the chance to see them.  I have posted some pictures of the monkeyflower in San Juan's hills here