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A ROUND TRIP : Fullerton Arboretum's Path Loops Through Vast and Varied Zones

March 18, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD | Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

If you step inside the gate of the Fullerton Arboretum and close your eyes, you'll know you're in an unusual place.

You'll hear a bird's song and an airplane's engine, a waterfall and whizzing freeway traffic, wind in the leaves and tennis balls hitting rackets.

The arboretum is a surprisingly vast and varied natural haven, situated between the Orange (57) Freeway and the Cal State Fullerton athletic facilities. Take a few more steps into the arboretum, and you will forget about civilization for a while.

11 to 11:30: The arboretum path is a large loop. Before you get started, step up to the bulletin board planted near the entrance and help yourself to a map.

If you're interested in watercolor classes, weddings or portrait photography on the grounds, the bulletin board has some posted information for you.

Heading into the arboretum itself, I took the path to the right, which leads into the "temperate zone."

Of course, the arboretum is subject to the same temperatures throughout its 25 acres, but the temperate zone refers to the kinds of trees planted there, as do the other zones, tropical and arid.

You'll soon discover, as you wander through the conifers of the temperate zone, that you need not be a tree genius to enjoy the arboretum. Most of the trees are labeled. The small signs give tree names, characteristics and places of origin. Together with the arboretum map, this walk can be an education.

I didn't realize how varied conifers can be. But with them all planted within feet of each other, it was easy to compare the droopy Montezuma pine (from Central America) with the towering Cupressus Cashmeriana (from Kashmir and Tibet) or with the "Fat Albert" Colorado blue spruce.

11:30 to noon: The tropical zone encompasses the far end of the arboretum's loop. There is a ficus collection, if you like figs, with plants from Australia and the Philippines.

Near the ficus are some of the oddest-looking arboretum plants: the spiked cabbage tree, which grows from Zambia to South Africa, and the variegated pampas grass from Argentina. The latter looks like a large, green Cousin It.

Closer to the lake, there are palm trees. Some are the standard varieties that line Southern California streets and beaches.

Others are more exotic and hail from places such as New Zealand and India.

Just before you leave the tropical zone, take note of the Ombu tree. The roots of the Ombu, which is a native of southeastern South America, look like giant hands sinking their fingers into the ground.

Noon to 12:30: The arid zone is the desert area. Cacti and other succulents live here, and many are in bloom this time of year.

12:30 to 1: Within the arboretum's loop is the Heritage House, a home built by an early settler in what was to become Fullerton.

His name was Dr. George Crook Clark, and he practiced medicine from the house he built in 1894. Behind the house is an orchard of fruit trees that were once cultivated in large numbers by Orange County farmers: orange, peach, lemon and lime.

You can see inside the house pretty clearly from the outside. If you want to get a closer look at the interior, you'll have to plan ahead. It is generally open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays, except in January and August and on major holidays and when it rains.

You might want to call ahead.

1 to 2: The Silver Dollar Cafe is a standard sandwich-and-steak shop that opened in late October. The food is inexpensive, tasty and served quickly. Prices range from $3.75 for a cheeseburger to $6.95 for a top sirloin steak.

The cafe's lone quirk is its music, a blend of blues and standards from the 1930s and 1940s.

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