Lake Tahoe & Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevadas
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For Lovers of Lake Tahoe Wildflowers

by Mary Kay Aufrance

If you love wildflowers and Lake Tahoe, this page is for you. Find your own perfect guide to Lake Tahoe and Sierra Nevada Wildflowers.


Pocket guides are great for taking on your trip to Lake Tahoe. And, now you can take your wildflower guides on your kindle or e-book device! What a super way to have all your favorite references with you when you are hiking, running, off roading or even skiing to view alpine flowers.

wildflower guide

A favorite author of ours has always been Laird Blackwell, for his beautiful colorful and informative guides to wildflowers. It's clear that Laird really REALLY loves wildflowers and sharing his expertise through a series of books.

Lake Tahoe wildflowers guides on Amazon...


Lake Tahoe Lupine: Lupinus Meionanthus

Lake Tahoe Lupine
Lake Tahoe Lupine Print on Amazon...

Strolling through a lake shore full of shoulder high lupines on the beach at Tahoe City is a giddy experience! But it's fleeting, because the lupines only bloom here for a few weeks, toward the end of June or early July.

Lake Tahoe has its very own lupine Lupinus Argenteus Meionanthus. Although lupines grow in most of the United States and Canada, the Tahoe City beach just might be the most astonishing and fun place to enjoy them! This lupine field is so large and beautiful that many photographers have created prints and canvases you can buy and have Lake Tahoe lupines in your home or office all year round.

Mule Ears: Wyethia

Lake Tahoe Wildflower Mule Ears

Mule Ears are a favorite of Lake Tahoe wildflower lovers. Also called Wooly Mule Ears, these bright cheerful yellow wildflowers fill hillsides with their sunny flowers and large downy mule ear shaped leaves.

For those who love classifications in addition to the exciting enjoyment of standing on a mountain side full of these large and prolific plants, there are seven species of Wyethia, all native to Western North America. This is is the common Wyethia at Lake Tahoe.

It's easy to see why this plant got its name, with its soft downy leaves that are covered with tiny hairs that remind us of petting the ears or soft muzzle of its equine namesake. The leaves give further delight throughout the fall season, as they dry and rustle in the wind.

It's easy to see how this plant got its name, with its soft downy leaves that are covered with tiny hairs that remind us of petting the ears or soft muzzle of its equine namesake. The leaves give further delight throughout the fall season, as they dry and rustle in the wind.

Not Mule Ears: Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Lake Tahoe Wildflower Balsamorhiza Sagittata

Looks like Mule Ears? But, look closer at the pointy ends on the leaves, unlike Mule Ears which have rounded ends. Arrowleaf Balsamroot is another favorite of Lake Tahoe wildflower lovers, and its bright cheerful yellow wildflowers fill hillsides with their sunny flowers. However, Arrowleaf Balsamroot blooms in the spring, earlier than Mule Ears. Also, these leaves are also not covered with wooly down, but are still felt-like and rustle in the wind, when dry in the fall. So, now you know the difference, and can enjoy Balsamhoriza Sagittata in bloom from late April through early July.

Thank you for the photo Dcrjsr: used under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

Sierra Tiger Lily: Lilium Parvum

Lake Tahoe Wildflower Sierra Tiger Lily

You can find Sierra Tiger Lily, also known as Alpine Lily, all around Lake Tahoe and the mountains of the western United States, primarily the Sierra Nevada of California and northwestern Nevada as well as up to southwestern Oregon. It's a high altitude forest plant, with flowers that are smaller and more bell shaped than other lilys.

This lily loves to hybridize with others, and you can even find a beautiful variety with light pink flowers in the foothills of El Dorado County, California, to the west of Lake Tahoe. This pretty little lily is called the Ditch Lily, for where it likes to grow.

Thank you to Miguel Vieira from Walnut Creek, CA, USA for the photo: used under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

Snow Plant: Sarcodes Sanguinea

Lake Tahoe Wildflower Snow Plant
Photographic Encyclopedia of Wildflowers...

Is Snow Plant my favorite Lake Tahoe wildflower? Perhaps so, because it is always a delight to happen upon this bright red forest herb as it sprouts up through the dried pine needles or snow on the forest floor. Other wildflower lovers show their affection for Snow Plant too, because I often find it with a protective ring of rocks or pine cones that were placed around it by some good soul who passed by it before me, warning, "Don't step on the lovely little Snow Plant."

Sarcodes Sanguinea is unique to coniferous forests in the southwestern United States, from southern Oregon to southern California. It's a really different kind of plant! Snow Plant is saprophytic herb, which means this is really a parasite and it doesn't have chlorophyll, meaning it is unable to photosynthesize. Instead, it feeds on fungi that attach to tree roots. All this makes Snow Plant even more special!

Tahoe Yellow Cress

Tahoe Yellow Cress

You gotta love the Tahoe Yellow Cress for its tenacity, even though this tiny bloomer may not have the showy appeal of other Lake Tahoe wildflowers. Rorippa Subumbellata is a rare plant that only occurs on the shores of Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada.

My first time seeing Tahoe Yellow Cress was from the outside looking through a wire fence around it, on the beach near South Lake Tahoe. Why the fence? Because this little bush like plant is so rare that many government and nonprofit groups and legislators are working hard to save Tahoe Yellow Cress from extinction. Even though its adapted well to lake levels and recreational uses on the shorezone, Tahoe Yellow Cress just needs a little loving care from us all.

Thanks for the image: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS from Sacramento, US, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Spreading Phlox: Phlox Diffusa

Spreading Phlox

You can find Spreading Phlox in open areas and high up rocky places around Lake Tahoe, often growing next to the hiking path. This matted perennial has sprawling stems that are 4-12 inches long, with fragrant flowers all over each plant. This phlox greets you in the summer from June through August, with flowers that are often white as newly fallen snow. The flowers can also be white, lavender pinkish or blue, as well.

Whether you find sparsely scattered little bushes of this phlox, or a mass of them surrounding you as you amble along the open trail, this wildflower is always a delight! And, don't forget to bend down and get a nose full of its wonderful scent!

Thanks for the image: Walter Siegmund, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Anderson's Thistle

 Andersons Thistle

We love the vibrant prickly Anderson's Thistle so much that it's the first wildflower we featured on this website, back in the mid-90's. Back then this site was called HighSierra.com and the thistle we featured was photographed in our own yard on the edge of the Truckee River Meadow in South Lake Tahoe.

This spiny perennial with its bright flower heads grows up to 40 inches tall, and likes to live in the shade or open, especially near the edge of a tree line such as you find next to an open meadow.

Thanks for the image: Dcrjsr, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Thank you for visiting our Lake Tahoe wildflowers page. More Lake Tahoe wildflowers are coming soon! We're just getting started with this page.