Photo by Rennett Stowe
- Proclaimed the state flower in 1903
- California Poppy Day is celebrated every April 6
- Botanical name: Eschscholzia californica
- Named in 1816 by naturalist Adelbert Von Chamisso, who sailed into San Francisco Bay and found the hills covered in gold (poppies, not ore)
- California Poppy Trivia: May 13-18 was proclaimed California Poppy Week in 1996
Growing wild throughout the state, the California Poppy was an important resource for the indigenous peoples of California, who used it for both food and oil. They also used the pollen as a colorful cosmetic. The state flower actually grows wild as far north as southern Washington state and as far south as Baja California, Mexico, but it’s most closely associated with California, not just because of its name but also because of the state’s vast ranges of rolling hills turned golden by its delicate petals.
Being drought-resistant, the California Poppy is particularly adapted to the California climate and is extremely successful everywhere in the state it grows. It was quite easy therefore for Californians to have brought this hardy wildflower into their home gardens to add color and also to attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. It’s quite common today to find the California Poppy growing in flower gardens from San Diego to San Francisco, including Los Angeles and San Jose. Naturally, residents of all of these California towns consider these attractive flowers as “their own.”
Photo by Joyce Cory
The California Poppy is a small plant, with one flower per slender stem. A mature plant may be as short as two inches, yet the hardy seeds for which poppies are known can spread far and wide and take root in sandy, difficult soil where other plants’ seeds may fail. The seeds actually prefer to take root in “disturbed” soil which has been broken by anything from farm tractors to footprints. In fact, a short distance from Los Angeles you’ll find the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a high desert area where the flower practically covers every square inch of the 1,745-acre site. If you live in or are visiting the region, the best dates to see the reserve in full bloom is during wildflower season, which usually starts in mid-March and lasts through mid-May.
The California state flower has spread to other parts of the country and also to South America and Australia. It’s other names include la amapola (flame flower)and copa de oro (cup of gold), as well as dormidera, the drowsy one, because of its tendency to open its petals later in the morning than most other wildflowers.