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COVER STORY

All Over the Bloomin' Place

See a lupin, fiddleneck or sharptooth sanicle up close and personal on a stroll through your local park or wilderness area.

May 04, 2000|DAN BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's late spring, that lusty, romantic time of year, when each day ends with a simple question: Did I admire a castor bean today? Or a California buttercup, rusty popcorn or even a scarlet monkey flower?

Take your pick. This is a great time of year to view big, blooming wildflowers in local parks and wilderness areas. Though the odd weather patterns this spring mean a late-blooming crop, April's heavy rains could make May a heavenly time to spot colorful patches of local wildflower favorites.

Here is a list of the parks and preserves where the wildflowers are. Choose a sunny day for best displays, though you never really know how good the bloom will be until you get there.

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Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, 33401 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano. Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset, daily. Parking: $2; $4 on Saturday and Sunday. (949) 728-0235.

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Adjacent to Cleveland National Forest, this public park is covered with chaparral, with trees and bushes growing near creeks.

The wildflower count was down early in the season, said park ranger John Gannaway, although like many of the local parks, Caspers could get colorful again within the next few weeks. "When conditions are good, you can definitely see some blue-eyed grass, Indian paintbrush, monkey flower, popcorn flower, fiddleneck, lots of poppies and some lupin popping up," Gannaway said.

Gannaway named the East Ridge Trail as a good hike for wildflower viewing, along with the Star Rise Trail, where a few weeks ago, Gannaway saw a huge explosion of poppies and at least 15 other varieties. "It all depends on the weather," Gannaway said.

"But some rain, like we had, along with a good week of sunshine, usually means a lot of wildflower growth." The 7,600-acre protected wilderness preserve is a popular campground destination, with several trails offering optimum views of wild vegetation.

Mountain lion warnings are always in effect. Nature walks are offered on weekends by appointment.

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Carbon Canyon Regional Park, 4442 Carbon Canyon Road, Brea. Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Parking: $2 weekdays, $4 weekends. (714) 996-5252.

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Not only does a stroll on the nature trail at Carbon Canyon offer prime viewing for wildflowers, the park is also adjacent to Chino Hills State Park. "It's two-for-one for people who like flowers," said park ranger Raul Herrera.

"We've got the normal stuff, the monkey flowers, two or three varieties of fiddleneck, the blue-eyed grass, three different varieties of lupin, a lot of baby blue eyes, Mariposa and phacelia. We also have people who look a little deeper, and find miner's lettuce. It's short, about 6 inches in height, and looks a little like a miniature pond lily, green with white flowers in the center."

Herrera said another eccentric variety is the wild artichoke thistle, a tall, spiny flower with a purple bloom. "If people venture over to Chino, they get even more of a choice," Herrera said. "This has been a really good wildflower season for both of the parks. The rains have helped."

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O'Neill Regional Park, 30892 Trabuco Canyon Road, Trabuco Canyon. Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset, daily. Parking: $2. (949) 858-9365.

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This charmed spot in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains has many faces. The area near the main entrance allows for views of neighboring suburbia, but take one of the many trails leading to the 3,100 acres of woodlands and grassy meadows, and come face-to-face with nature.

The park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, boasts dozens of wildflower varieties, including sharp-tooth sanicle, tomcat clover and the ever-popular California poppy. Several trails lead to good viewing ground, with Raccoon Ridge along the Coyote Canyon Trail a bountiful path.

As a side trip, try the Arroyo Trabuco trails and wilderness area that runs south of the park. No trip to O'Neill is complete without a hike to one of two refreshing waterfalls, Holy Jim Falls and Falls Canyon.

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Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Portola Parkway and Market Street, Foothill Ranch. Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset, daily. Parking: $2. (949) 589-4729.

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This giant acreage is a haven for nature lovers, a hiker's paradise and a wildflower catchall. More than 1,500 acres and multiple trails offer the opportunity for spectacular viewing, especially in the areas around Borrego and Serrano canyons.

"Our wildflower population is doing quite well," park ranger Ron Slimm said last month. "We expect May to be even better." The Whiting Ranch loop trail is known for large spreads of poppies and clover, and along with the flowers, the trail is apt to offer numerous forms of wildlife, including deer and several species of birds. "Our most popular flower is probably the sticky monkey flower," Slimm said. "We also have Indian paintbrush, bush sunflower, popcorn plant and mustard. Everybody likes mustard."

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