The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is native from the Columbia River area of Oregon and Washington to Baja California and east into Arizona. Widely planted as a garden flower, California poppies escaped cultivation and are now found throughout most of the United States. This perennial poppy quickly invades waste sites and open areas in full sunlight. Highway departments also plant California poppies along roads and interstates. Nothing is prettier than a hillside covered in these bright yellow flowers.
California declared E. californica its state flower in 1890 making the California poppy the first recognized state flower in the United States.
California poppies grow one to two feet tall and assume a bushlike appearance. Hairless, usually glaucous (covered with white powder) and containing a clear “juice”, California poppies grow from a single taproot. The blue-green leaves are mostly basal and much divided giving them a parsley like appearance. In the wild these poppies are variable in color, ranging from buttery yellow to crimson orange. The saucer-shaped flowers have four petals and grow singly atop long stalks. Numerous seeds are contained in linear, pod-like capsules that open from the base when mature.
California poppy flowers only open in bright sunlight. An early name for the California poppy was “dormidera” meaning “sleepy one” because the flowers close at night. On cloudy days California poppies open partially or remain closed.
The botanist Adelbert von Chamisso named the California poppy genus after Johann Fredrich Gustav von Eschscholtz, the physician on a Russian ship that landed in San Francisco Bay in 1816 where Eschscholtz found the plant. The word poppy derives from the Latin name for poppies, papaver.
California poppy flowers are edible. The golden-yellow petals can add bright color to a salad. Native Americans and herbalists use California poppy as a mild sedative and to treat colon and gall bladder conditions. Since it belongs to the poppy family, as does the opium poppy, California poppy plants have a reputation as a nonaddictive alternative to the opium poppy. Forget the California poppy for recreational use. The claims are totally unfounded.
I photographed these California poppies on our property (Lookout CA) and along the Lower Hat Creek (Shasta County CA).
What a cheerful plant!