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Wild Things, We Think We Love You

It's wildflower season, but better act quickly--it could be one of the shortest in recent years.


Whether it's a bright swath alongside the highway or explosions of color in a groomed native plant garden, the reminders are among us that this time of year is wildflower season.

Weather-wise, this season has been one of extremes--from torrential rains to summer-like sunshine. That's not the best news for wildflowers, said Stanley Bernstein, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. "It's not the gentle rain and progression of weather you'd want for the best blooms."

Nevertheless, wildflower watchers still come out in droves to view blossoms both in captivity and in the wild.

This year, Mother Nature's vagaries may mean that wildflower season will be more fleeting than usual. At the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, state park ranger Tom Tanner said without any more rain, the poppy season will be early and short, perhaps ending as early as mid-April.

"It's really a nice view, but we're not going to be getting the orange-covered hills we had in 1991, a peak year," he said. "But along the trail, we have scattered patches that might not be visible to those driving by, so I encourage people to come out and take a look."

Here is just a handful of the many locations in Southern California where wildflowers are blooming. For a comprehensive, up-to-date guide on local wildflower viewing, call the Theodore Payne Foundation Hotline at (818) 768-3533.

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley.

Named for a British horticulturist who came to Los Angeles in 1903 and dedicated his life to preserving California native plants, this organization is a good starting point for wildflower enthusiasts. At the foundation, members maintain Wildflower Hill, a six-acre natural display of wildflowers with a trail. There is also an on-site native plant garden in a 20-acre natural chaparral canyon. The foundation also has a nursery, library, museum and bookstore.

On April 5, the foundation will hold Poppy Day 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with trail walks, educational exhibits and a plant sale. Admission is free and open to the public.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Directions: From the 210, exit on Sunland Boulevard and travel south to La Tuna Canyon, turn left and left again on Wheatland. At Tuxford, turn right.

Call: (818) 768-1802

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, 15101 W. Lancaster Road, Lancaster.

Thousands of blooms on 1,700 acres of rolling hills feature a mosaic of oranges, blues and yellows. Flowers include California poppies, fern phacelias, filarees and fiddlenecks. The poppy bloom started early this year, in early March, and should continue through mid-April.

Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends

Cost: $5 per car

Directions: Take Interstate 5 north. At California 14, head east toward Lancaster and Palmdale. In Lancaster, exit on Avenue I and proceed west about 15 miles. Stay on the road as it changes name to Lancaster Road; the reserve is on the right.

Call: (805) 724-1180 or (805) 942-0662

Gorman Hills/Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, Grapevine mountains.

In these cooler climates, peak wildflower season doesn't start until April 5. From then until June 1, auto tours will be offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m., and a self-guided tour is available at park kiosks. Poppies, baby blue eyes and coreopsis are among the flowers that bloom in these mountains.

Cost: $4 per vehicle

Directions: I-5 north, take Gorman exit and follow signs.

Call: (805) 248-7007

Circle X Ranch, Santa Monica Mountains.

Morning glories, wild sweet peas, purple nightshades and canyon sunflowers are currently blooming, and should be around through April. For wildflower-seeking ramblers, the Canyon View, Mishe Mokwa and Grotto trails are recommended.

Cost: Free

Directions: PCH south, take Yerba Buena Road about 5 miles to park site.

Call: (818) 597-9192

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara.

California's oldest native plant garden will be in peak bloom through April. California lilacs, California buttercups, hummingbird sage, bush poppy, barberries and monkey flowers are among the blooms. There are guided general nature tours on Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

On April 5, the garden will hold "Birds, Bees and Butterflies," its seventh annual SpringFest and plant sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with activities for children, live entertainment as well as butterfly and bird displays. Admission is free with entrance.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends

Cost: $3 adults; $2 students, seniors and teens; $1 children 5-12.

Directions: Mission Street exit off of the 101 north, right on Mission. Travel 8-10 blocks and take a left on Laguna, then a right on Los Olivos. Bear left until a three-way stop. Take a right on Foothill and follow signs to garden. Half mile north of the mission in Santa Barbara.

Call: (805) 682-4726

Rancho Santa Ana, 1500 N. College Ave., Claremont.

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