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Wild rhododendrons on their home turf; north coast reserves, just off U.S. 101 or State 1.

North coast reserves, just off U.S. 101 or State 1

As if not to divert attention from the dramatic meeting of land and water along California's north coast, nature tends to limit its palette to subtle hues. But in three coastal rhododendron reserves, one new last year, this chromatic restraint gives way to the bold splashes of a showy extrovert.

Two native species of the genus Rhododendron thrive in the coast's moist climate and acid soil. Both are shrubs that bloom in clusters of colorful flowers. The seasonal display usually starts in April and lasts into summer.

One species is actually an azalea. Deciduous Rhododendron occidentale is the only native azalea in the West. It's at its best in the two northernmost reserves. Its sweetly fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers range in color from white to pinkish red, often tinged with yellow. These attractive blooms have made the Western azalea a popular progenitor of garden hybrids.

Kruse state reserve features Rhododendron macrophyllum, variously known as Pacific, coast, Western, and California rhododendron. This evergreen sports globular clusters of deep pink to purple flowers.

Admission to all three reserves (listed north to south and all just a short distance off U.S. 101 or State 1) is free.

Stagecoctszch Hill Azalea Preserve. A dedication ceremony last spring marked the completion of several years of work by the State Parks Foundation and the Coastal Conservancy on this 40-acre property overlooking Big Lagoon and the ocean. A 1/2- mile trail winds through a dense stand of Sitka spruce before emerging onto an open hillside covered with azaleas ranging from 16 inches to 12 feet in height. Look closely at the flowers as you stroll and you'll see a diversity of forms and colors unmatched by any other population of Western azaleas.

From U.S. 101 about 40 miles north of Eureka, drive east on Kane Road. At the T, turn left and look for the preserve sign.

Azalea State Reserve. Two trails, each about 1/2 mile long, lead visitors through this 30-acre reserve near McKinleyville, about 12 miles north of Eureka. There are picnic tables at the trailhead.

Northbound on US. 101, take the first McKinleyville exit and turn right immediately on N. Bank Road. In about a mile, watch for a sign marking the turnoff.

Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. Rhododendrons up to 20 feet tall share this 317-acre property with second-growth redwoods, Douglas fir, and various deciduous trees. You can walk among the "rhodies" on 5 miles of trails.

From State 1 about 20 miles north of Jenner, turn east on Kruse Ranch Road.

Rhododendron Festival in Eureka

Tours of both wild and cultivated rhododendrons in other spots around Eureka are among the activities planned for the week-long Rhododendron Festival, an annual event that begins this year on Friday, April 28. For more information, call the Eureka Chamber of Commerce at (707) 442-3738.
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Date:May 1, 1989
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