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This hotline has been helping people find the best wildflowers in SoCal for decades

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are some key signs of spring - warmer weather, more sunshine, daylight saving time, which starts this weekend. And in Southern California, there's the return of a famous phone hotline to find wildflowers. NPR's Liz Baker reports it's a favorite among photographers, social media influencers and nature lovers alike.

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Simone Smith runs a plant store near Carrizo Plains National Monument, a hot spot for wildflowers only a couple hours' drive from LA.

SIMONE SMITH: So every year, people stop by the nursery to ask me if the wildflowers are happening. But the wildflowers are different. Like, every time you go out is totally different.

BAKER: Luckily, there's an easy way to find out what's blooming and where.

SMITH: Yeah, a lot of times, I will call up the wildflower hotline.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For the wildflower hotline, press seven.

SMITH: It's a great way to keep apprised of what's going on where.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE SPANO: It's early days, with violets and manzanitas blooming still.

BAKER: The Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to native plant education, has run the hotline for the last 41 years. All spring, the report is updated every Friday with the latest intel from scientists and park employees scattered across the region.

EVAN MEYER: It's really nice that it kind of takes the guesswork out of trying to find wildflowers.

BAKER: Evan Meyer is the executive director. He says thousands of people call every day to hear it, some dialing long-distance.

MEYER: People will be calling in from the East Coast or the Midwest. As they're sitting in their frosty living rooms, looking out at snow outside, they're thinking of the wildflower blooms here in California.

SPANO: It's just a vacation to the mind and the soul.

BAKER: That's Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Spano, nationally famous for playing police detectives and FBI agents on TV. Around this time of year, Spano enjoys a more peaceful and poetic gig as the hotline's voice of spring.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPANO: Examine the flower closely to see the yellow, corkscrew-shaped stamens - very unusual and very cute.

BAKER: Spano says wildflowers are an obsession in Southern California because they happen without any help or planning from humans. For people living in a grid-and-grit city like LA, it's a balm.

SPANO: These stretches of blue and gold on the hillsides - you can even see them from the freeway - it is just astounding.

BAKER: So far, there's no word on whether 2024 will be a superbloom like last year. But conditions look pretty good, so call back later.

Liz Baker, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMIE BLU SONG, "EVERYTHING ABOUT HER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Liz Baker
Liz Baker is a producer on NPR's National Desk based in Los Angeles, and is often on the road producing coverage of domestic breaking news stories.