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NO NEED TO WAIT FOR MARCH 20 SPRING HAS SPRUNG RECENT RAINS RESULT IN EXPLOSION OF FLOWERS AROUND THE SOUTHLAND.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew dana.bartholomew@dailynews.com 818-713-3730 Staff Writer

A Griffith Park ranger watches it coloring the canyons. A Valley horticulturist spots it popping across the hills. A NASA climatologist eyes it sweeping over his garden.

Spring.

Don't wait for March 20, the official launch of the season. Thanks to last week's rains, shoots of green are poking through fire-blackened hillsides and a rainbow of wildflowers has begun to bloom.

"It's gonna be great," said Albert Torres, chief ranger at Griffith Park, noting the big-pod ceanothus exploding in the chaparral and the johnny jump-ups and shooting stars splashing purple in the canyons of America's largest urban wildland park.

"Every year I get excited - as much as an old guy can get excited.

"We're still in February and from the standpoint of a park ranger, we're into our spring period."

Horticulturists say the well-spaced rains that began last fall set the stage for what portends to be a lush wildflower season.

Periodic rain makes for happy seedlings, from growth to budding into blooms - first in the southern deserts, then north into the high Sierra.

"I think all signs point to a really good wildflower season," said Lili Singer, horticulturist at the Theodore Payne Foundation's 22-acre nursery of native plants in Sun Valley, whose 27th annual California Wildflower Report and hotline is set to kick off March 6.

"They're about to pop over here. It's about to explode."

Clouds of bluish-white ceanothus hover north of the nursery in hills near where wildfires had raged in the fall.

Phacilia, a classic fire follower, is preparing its purple, trumpet- shape blooms. Blue dicks follow the hills and grasslands with lavender blooms perched on wiry stems.

There are the bitsy baby blue eyes now looking toward an upcoming kaleidoscope of native California poppies, sticky monkeys, whispering bells, farewell-to-springs and other wild gems.

There are the expected interlopers like yellow mustard, castor bean and tree tobacco that draw frowns from native plant preservationists.

"The birds are already out. I can't believe how many birds are out," said Singer, whose nursery is now lighting up with flowering ribes, or native currants, and manzanita, from which hang white and pink bells.

"They're going crazy, the scrub jays, the towhees. And of course, the insects are coming. They're here to pollinate the flowers and become food for the birdies."

Meanwhile, a thousand cherry trees around Lake Balboa in the Sepulveda Basin are ready to release their magic - a San Fernando Valley rite of spring.

"We're about a week away from the cherry blooms," said Jane Kolb, spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks. "I think it's one of the most spectacular things in the city."

Farther afield, rangers say wildflowers at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego are beginning to pop.

Meanwhile, rangers in Death Valley say early rains followed by warm temperatures bode well for wildflower seeds, but that late, heavy rains may make for a spotty spring carpet from mid-March to early April.

But for Bill Patzert, the NASA climatologist for the the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, spring has already sprung. After no rain in January, he was worried Mother Nature wouldn't come through.

But after the February deluge, he's seeing big blooms of clivia, azalea and camellia at his Sierra Madre backyard.

"In Southern California, fall ends in December, then we get one month of winter, then the spring starts in February, every year," Patzert said. "How lucky are we, when they're still getting snowfall on the East Coast, the Great Lakes are frozen solid, we're having springtime in February."

CAPTION(S):

From Griffith Park Chief Ranger Albert Torres' perspective, spring h as arrived. Recent rains have caused a rainbow of wildflowers blooming inside the park and the Southland, including ceanothus shrubs, above, and lemonade berries, below.

Tina Burch/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 28, 2009
Words:638
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