Irvine Regional Park

Western sycamore, Irvine Regional Park (1/7/22) Michelle Pontoni

On a recent visit to Orange County, Michelle and Ron Pontoni visited Irvine Regional Park to find autumn still happening in January.

Western sycamore (Plantanus racemosa), red willow (Salix laevigata) and Toyon  or California holly (Hereromeles abutifolia (Lindl.) were all at peak along dry Santiago Creek.

They were there to visit the Orange County Zoo which rescues injured, orphaned, confiscated and other native animals no longer releasable into the wild. They include American black bear, mountain lion, bald eagle, kit fox ocelot, beaver, great horned owl, porcupine, coyote, and turkey vulture among their decidedly native selection.

While observing a trio of goats, the Pontonis realized the goats were waiting for lunch. The South Coast breeze would rise and blow delicious sycamore leaves to them from branches, reminding Michelle  of wedding guests vying to catch a bridal bouquet, all huddled together and keeping their eyes on the prize of a fluttering leaf. She said, “the only hope for the smaller goats was if several leaves fell at once.

“On that breezy day, piles of sycamore leaves lined every pathway and pen, except theirs. They are good housekeepers,” she wrote.

Western sycamore are a gorgeous fall color tree for Southern California, but grow throughout California up to 4,000′ in elevation. They flourish near wet ground (stream and meadow edges) in valleys, foothills and mountains. Their ball-shaped fruit attract birds, including the Santa Monica Mountains’ population of naturalized Nanday conures (parrots).

Native people used the sycamore for many purposes, including their houses, utensils, to eat and to wrap bread for baking.

View of Santiago Creek from Barnham Ridge Trail (1/7/22) Michelle Pontoni

Michelle recommends the two-mile hike along the Chute Trail to Barham Ridge Trail lookout for a broad view of Santiago Creek and its golden grove of red willows, though be watchful for mountain bikers who pedal up the Chute Trail for an exhilarating ride down the steeper Ridge Chute Trail. Though they were courteous to the hikers, Michelle and Ron couldn’t help feeling like they were an unexpected concern to the riders.

Parking at the regional park is plentiful and cheap. $3 on weekdays, $5 on weekends. Add $2 for zoo admission.

  • Irvine Regional Park (587′) – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!

OC Orange

Mountains to Sea Trail, Peters Canyon Regional Park (12/20/20) Mark Hanning-Lee

It’s orange in Orange County along the southern end of Peters Canyon Regional Park where Near Peak color hangs on.

OC color spotter Mark Hanning-Lee walked ten minutes from the park’s south entrance along the Mountains to the Sea Trail to enter a boulevard of tall peaking red willows, while others filled the basin that comprises the normally dry Peters Canyon Reservoir.

  • Peters Canyon Regional Park (683′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Nearly Past Peak at Peters Canyon

Peters Canyon Regional Park, Irvine (12/6/20) Mark Hanning-Lee

Orange County was named for its citrus, not for its fall color. The south coast county is often the last to report and with little fall color. The best of it is found in the county’s regional parks where open space dominates.

Mark Hanning-Lee reports that willows and 76 varieties of meadow grasses are displaying autumn’s gold at Peters Canyon Regional Park in Irvine. They’re near peak, but the remaining winter deciduous color has peaked.

At peak, scattered Fremont and black cottonwood, western sycamore, blue elderberry, bigleaf maple, white alder, creek dogwood, Southern and Northern California black walnut, California and Velvet ash provide spots of fall color. Presently, the Lake Loop Trail is a wash of peak orange grasses and near peak willow.

  • Peters Canyon Regional Park, Irvine (683′) – Near Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.
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Fullerton Honey

Honey Locust, Fullerton Arboretum (11/15/19) Mark Hanning-Lee

Mark Hanning-Lee scores a first report for visiting the Fullerton Arboretum at Cal State Fullerton where he found ripe orange persimmons and Honey Locust dripping with golden color.

Mark was disappointed at the abundance of evergreens in the arboretum, though a scan through its Interactive Map, shows that there are a few deciduous varieties (e.g., Asian maple, Black alder). You just have to know what they are and when they’re peaking.

Wonderful pomegranate, Fullerton Arboretum (11/15/19) Mark Hanning-Lee

He found muted color on Wonderful Pomegranate and on two Green Ash and estimates the arboretum’s experimental apple orchard may peak later this month.

Remember, this is Orange County where peak occurs late in autumn.

  • Fullerton Arboretum (164′) – Near Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Orange Orange

It’s rare, extremely so, to receive a report from Orange County.

In the eleven years that CaliforniaFallColor.com has existed, Orange County has been mentioned in only three of over 1,000 fall color reports.

So, when Mark Hanning-Lee sent these snaps of Goodding’s black willow at Peters Canyon Regional Park in Orange, I did a double take.

Orange in Orange? Yes, seeing is believing. OK, it isn’t Sabrina Lake, North Lake, June Lake Loop, Plumas County, Nevada City, Napa or Yosemite Valley at peak, but it’s just as special. Perhaps more so, because of its rarity.

The OC had opened its parking lots to free parking for veterans, yesterday, and Mark took advantage of the invite to score a First Report.

Peters Canyon Regional Park encompasses 340 acres of coastal sage scrub, riparian, freshwater marsh and grassland habitats. Goodding’s black willow, Western sycamore and Fremont cottonwood line Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir and Peters Canyon Creek, which meanders through the canyon.

Among its native deciduous plants, the City of Orange can count Southern California Black Walnut, Fremont cottonwood, Western sycamore, bigleaf maple, creek dogwood, black elderberry, Goodding’s black and other varieties of willow.

Hanning-Lee’s find is unlikely to cause a rush of color spotters to Orange County, though I would welcome more reports from there. As, an Orange Orange just seems right, doesn’t it?

  • Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange (600′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Autumn Blooms

Pink Floss-Silk Tree, Southern California (10/11/17) Kathy Jonokuchi

Pink Floss-Silk Tree, Southern California (10/11/17) Kathy Jonokuchi

Color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi shared these images on our Facebook page (@CalifFallColor) of the Pink Floss-Silk tree, an exotic that blooms in mid autumn.

It is another aspect of fall color that is seen only in California and other Mediterranean climates, during autumn.




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First Report: Orange County Lives Up To Its Name

City of Orange (12/10/16) Son Nguyen

Orange County (12/10/16) Son Nguyen

Orange County is living up to its name, with orange leaves adding late autumn color to the season.

Chapman University, Orange (12/10/16) Son Nguyen

City of Orange (12/10/16) Son Nguyen

Son Nguyen visited Chapman University in the City of Orange to find its foliage at peak.

No wonder we rarely get reports from Orange County. Son’s First Report shows that it peaks in December (hand slap to forehead)!

Orange County – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Exotic Species Color Up in LA & Orange Counties

Crepe myrtles, Bauer Lawn, LA County Arboretum  (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

Crepe myrtles, Bauer Lawn, LA County Arboretum (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

California Fall Color has observed over the years that species change color according to their own internal clock.  That’s certainly occurring at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia, where Frank McDonough reports the color change there “has been sporadic and uneven.”

Crepe myrtle, lagerstroemia indica (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

Crepe myrtle, lagerstroemia indica (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

The most reliable species, Ginkgo biloba and Liquidambar, “have yet to reach full color.”

Color spotter Son H. Nguyen posted the following montage on Facebook and commented, “Liquidambar is amazing in Orange County right now. I’ve never seen them this beautiful before. I’ve only seen them mostly turn yellow. But this year, there are many different hue from orange, yellow, red, deep red and even pink.”

Liquidambar (11/4/13) Son H Nguyen

Liquidambar (11/4/13) Son H Nguyen

Though, McDonough cautions that Liquidambars “have been under attack” from a combination of a  new pest, the Polyphagous shot hole borer, and a new disease to Southern California, Bacterial Leaf Scorch, “that may eliminate them from the Southern California landscape.”

Tulip tree, liriodendron tulipifera (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

Tulip tree, liriodendron tulipifera (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

Liquidambar have one of the more dramatic displays of flame orange, yellow and red and are a favorite of landscapers.  Sadly, due to pests and diseases, Frank opins that “this may be one of the last years to see them turn color, here.”  Until that happens, head to Southern California’s arboretums for the best in So. Cal.

Japanese birch, betula maximowicziana and Japanese fountain grass (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

Japanese birch, betula maximowicziana and Japanese fountain grass (11/4/13) Frank McDonough

California wild grape (11/4/13 Frank McDonough

California wild grape (11/4/13 Frank McDonough










Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

Japanese birch, betula maximowicziana and crepe myrtle (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

Japanese birch, betula maximowicziana and crepe myrtle (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

Honey locust, LA County Arboretum (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

Honey locust, LA County Arboretum (11/7/13) Frank McDonough

GO NOW! – 50 – 75% – LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens – Crepe myrtle are at peak; tulip tree are 30 – 50% of peak near the tram stop; Japanese birch are magnificent near the turtle pond; California wild grape near the tule pond are now yellow and will soon be brilliant red.

GO NOW! – 75 – 100% – Los Angeles County – Exotic Sweet Gum (liquidambar) are at peak in gardens and along streets throughout Los Angeles County.  Pests and disease are afflicting the trees, however, which may not survive another year.  So, go now to enjoy their display of varied color.