where wildflowers say 'it's spring'

It happens every spring--trees bud, rivers swell and nature landscapes hills and meadows with wildflowers.

Variations in temperatures and rainfall make it impossible to predict which plants will be in bloom at a specific time or place, but there is a Los Angeles Wildflower Hotline (818) 768-3533, which is updated each week until May 31. This information service is provided by the nonprofit Theodore Payne Foundation, 10459 Tuxford St., Sun Valley.

Melanie Baer, horticulturist at the foundation, has suggested 10 places where wildflower enthusiasts should be able to find some native California flowers in bloom.

O'Neill Regional Park--30892 Trabuco Canyon Road, Trabuco Oaks, (714) 858-9365. Open through Sept. 1, 7:30 a.m. to sunset. Entrance fee: $1 per vehicle. Take Interstate 5 to El Toro Road exit, turn right (east) and drive 10 miles to Live Oak Canyon Road, then turn right (east) and drive to park entrance (about three miles).

Situated in beautiful Trabuco, the O'Neill Park encompasses 1,298 acres that include oak woodlands, canyon bottomland, grassy meadows and shrub- covered hillsides and slopes. Watch for prickly phlox, lupine, wild sweet pea, phacelia, Mariposa lily and Indian paintbrush.

Eaton Canyon Nature Center--1750 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, (818) 794-1866. Take Interstate 210, use Sierra Madre Boulevard off-ramp, which is also the Altadena Drive exit. Drive north on Altadena Drive to the park. Family walks are conducted by docent naturalists each Saturday at 9 a.m. Mount Wilson Toll Road, not far from the Visitor's Center, has been the site of popcorn flowers, baby blue-eyes and monkey flowers in past years. Placerita Canyon Nature Center--19152 W. Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, (805) 259-7721. Interstate 5 north to Antelope Valley Freeway 14, head northeast for two stops to Placerita Canyon Road exit, turn right onto Placerita and drive 1.5 miles to the park sign, then turn right into the park.

More than 200 species of flowering plants have been observed in the park during the last five years. The center offers a booklet, "The Common Spring Wildflowers of Placerita Canyon." Generally, you can expect to see goldfields, lupines, Mariposa lilies, scarlet buglers, Southern sun cups, black sage and California buckwheat this month.

The Devil's Punchbowl--28000 Devil's Punchbowl Road, Pearblossom, (805) 944-2743. Take California 14 to Pearblossom Highway to California 138 toward Victorville, then take Longview Road south at the town of Pearblossom to Devil's Punchbowl Road to park.

The 1,310-acre park rises 2,000 feet to an area with stark rocks. A milelong loop trail dips into the Punchbowl and meanders around boulders and shrubbery. Treacherous hiking conditions, so use caution. Best displays of flowers in the past have been in the loop-trail near the creek. Watch for scarlet buglers and yucca.

Joshua Tree National Monument--74485 National Monument Drive, Twentynine Palms, (619) 367-7511. Use South entrance at Cottonwood Springs from Interstate 10.

Best viewing of wildflowers currently is at the north entrance and along the north boundary of the monument and the Pinto Basin, and scattered wildflowers are at the higher elevations such as the Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, or the Sheep Pass areas. Yuccas and ocotillos may be in bloom adjacent to the road from Cottonwood. At the higher elevations there are Indian paintbrush, Wallace's woolly eriophyllum, coreopsis, woolly marigolds, phacelia and gilia. Caution: There are rattlesnakes and wild animals in this area, as well as abandoned mine shafts that are not safe.

Figueroa Mountain Recreational Area--Los Padres National Forest, (805) 688-3017.

Take U.S. 101 north, then turn off at California 154 in Santa Barbara. Drive about 20 miles to a right onto Figueroa Mountain Road, then go north to the giant Figueroa Mountain sign.

This is one of the most picturesque areas in Santa Barbara County. A "Guide to the Plants of the Figueroa Mountains" is available through the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. Lace pods, phacelia, thistle sage, cream cups, golden yarrow and California poppies are among the many flowers here.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve--Make your first stop at the Wildflower Information Center, 44811 Sierra Highway in the center of Lancaster., (805) 948-1322. The center will open for the season Saturday and will offer a wildflower hotline (805) 948-1322. Available at the center is a "Wildflower Tour Map" and directions to wildflower area that extends 20 miles east and 14 miles west of Lancaster.

To get to the reserve, follow California 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) to Lancaster's Avenue Iexit, turn west and go a bit more than 14 miles. Signs will direct you to the reserve, which marks its 10th anniversary this year and is California's only poppy reserve.

Expect to see owl's clover, cream cups, scarlet buglers, lupines, fiddle necks and pincushions. Visitors are warned to buy film and fill the car's gas tank before going to wildflower fields.

Charmlee Natural Area Park--2577 E. Encinal Canyon Road, Malibu, (213) 457-7247. Use Pacific Coast Highway, turn off at Encinal Canyon Road and drive north four miles to the park.

This regional park of 460 acres, which has a variety of California native plants, shrubs and wildlife, is at the top of the Santa Monica Mountains. One of the high spots is a large, open meadow ablaze with wildflowers. This month look for a showing of California poppies, phlox, Mariposa lilies, snapdragons, popcorn flowers and sunflowers.

Malibu Creek State Park--28754 Mulholland Highway, Agoura, (805) 499-2112 or (818) 706-1310. Take U.S. 101 west, exit at Las Virgenes, then drive south about four miles. Park is on west side of road. Entrance fee is $2. Open 8 a.m. to dusk.

One of the most accessible areas in the park to view flowers. Stop at the ranger's station for directions to the Reagan Ranch, where blooms are expected to be profuse this year. Watch for phacelia, fire poppies, lupine, scarlet paintbrush, delphinium and Mariposa lilies. Rim of the World Interpretive Assn. at Heaps Peak Arboretum--P.O. Box 94, Lake Arrowhead, (714) 337-3408. Drive east on Interstate 10 to Interstate 215 north. Take "Mountain Resorts" exit and continue to the Waterman Avenue exit. Turn left, north, on Waterman Avenue, which turns into California 18. The arboretum, near Lake Arrowhead, is about 1.5 miles east of Rim Forest in Rim of the World area. U.S. Forest Service sign marks parking area.

In spite of devastating fires, trees and native shrubs continue to put on a display of color each spring, especially in the meadow area. The Lake Arrowhead Forest Advisory Committee has a four-pamphlet series to help you identify wildflowers--"Selected California Native Plants for San Bernardino Mountain Landscaping." Nos. 3 and 4 pertain to wildflowers. Blooming periods for wildflowers start later and continue through June at higher elevations. Be on the lookout for scarlet buglers, a variety of lupines, penstemons and sages throughout the area.

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