Going to the Super Bloom? Call the wildflower hotline and hear actor Joe Spano tell you what’s blooming

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For decades, Joe Spano has played cops on TV, traipsing through crime scenes, squad rooms and morgues in pursuit of fictional murderers and terrorists. He was detective Henry Goldblume in the 1980s show “Hill Street Blues,” and he now plays an FBI agent on the CBS crime show “NCIS.” But the Emmy-winning actor also has another long-running role, less dramatic perhaps, but in its own way just as memorable.

For a dozen years now, Spano’s volunteered as the voice of a free information service, telling people where they can go to find the most spectacular displays of wildflowers in Southern and Central California.

Kitty Connolly, executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley, says the weekly wildflower hotline started 34 years ago as a simple page people could pick up. Then it became a faxed newsletter. Now it goes online every Friday morning, along with an abridged version voiced by Spano.

Lili Singer, director of special projects for the Foundation, says botanist Lorrae Fuentes writes the weekly report with help from a network of bloom-spotting informants and regular updates from parks, national monuments and the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

Every Thursday from March through May, Spano’s script for the hotline arrives by email. He sits down, usually in the bedroom or kitchen of his quiet home on a wooded lot in Calabasas, and gives voice to long lists of fancifully-named flowers, like purple valley phacelia, pink owl’s clover, cream cups, orange fiddleneck and baby-blue-eyes.

A previous year’s bloom near Gorman (north of Los Angeles, off the I-5) Photo: Courtesy of Spencer Westbrook. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Technical issues and the expense of hosting the hotline put the recorded version on hiatus for two years. But it returned this spring in time to meet the heightened demand from people eager to check out the so-called Super Bloom of poppies and other flowers sprouting on trails and hillsides after the unusually wet winter.

The Super Bloom is expected to continue for at least the next month, with the peak bloom areas moving northward and up to higher elevations. The hotline will be updated every Friday through the end of May.

You can hear the Wild Flower Hotline by calling (818) 768-1802 or by visiting the Theodore Payne Foundation website.