P80317+This one is different though. It is not the characteristic homogeneous bright orange that California poppies should be. The orange in the middle is what the entire flower should look like. The outer yellow hallow is not typical.

California poppies used to much more common than they are now. Not only did they grow wild, but they grew wild in abundance. Some of the East Hills were blushed orange with them when poppies bloomed this time of year. The lower hills just to the east of Highway 101 to the south of San Jose were more than blushed. There seemed to be almost as much orange as there was green. By the spring of 1985, those same hills were neither south of San Jose, nor quite so orange. They were within the suburban sprawl of San Jose, and were mostly green with invasive exotic grasses. Only wispy swaths of orange bloomed down low and near the top of the western slope. Those same hills are now devoid of orange, and are part of an urban neighborhood.

California poppies just do not grow naturally like they used to. Those who want them must sow seed for them. Their environment is so different from what it once was.

Even the flowers are different. They were naturally the most perfect orange, with perfectly simple petals. When we could find pale yellowish white or lavender poppies (known as purple poppies), they were something very rare and special.

California poppies are now readily available in a variety of colors, including the once very rare pale white and lavender, as well as various hues of yellow and red, some with swirled patterns. Some have fluffier double flowers. It all seems to be so unnatural for a flower that needed no improvement.

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21 thoughts on “Poppies . . . again

  1. I do know what you mean, but I also find the work of breeders interesting. We’re natural forces in our own way – those who painstakingly make or pick out new options and those of us who admire them, put them in gardens and share them. And luckily, the breeder tends not to eradicate the natural form in flowers, as flowers are prolific, so we still have the original unlike when we breed dogs.

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    1. I think that the fancy breeds of poppies do not last long in the wild. They revert back to their natural state. I do not think of them as a threat like some other improved varieties can be. I just think they are silly. California poppies are so perfect that they can not be improved. White is my favorite color, but I would not want white poppies. I would prefer something that looks good in white.

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      1. White (or very close to white) Shirley poppies are nice. Because I am not familiar with them, I do not know what they are supposed to look like, and even if I did know, I probably would not mind if the improved colors were actually ‘improved’. ‘White’ nasturtiums sound pretty, but are really ‘cream’ or very pale yellow. They are nice where such soft colors are desirable, but are not convincingly white. They might be good on a laundry detergent commercial.

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      2. I’ve never seen a white nasturtium, but I can imagine one on a laundry commercial… ‘Are your nasturtiums no longer convincingly white?…’

        People can be a bit finicky about white roses. A lot of them are creamish. I like the creams as much as the whites.

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      3. My mother never allowed me to plant a straight white like ‘John F. Kennedy’, but instead got a few ivory colored floribunda ‘French Lace’. The white is too bright for her garden. ‘French Lace’ is an excellent cut flower (even though it is a floribunda), but I really like the bright white!

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  2. I still remember the print of those lovely orange California poppies I purchased in the late 1970s at the original Nature Company store in Berkeley. I can’t remember the artist now, but it was glorious — nothing but about a half dozen flowers with their leaves on a plain ivory background. I lost it during Tropical Storm Allison, and it grieved me no end. I think they are a perfect flower.

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  3. I’m afraid I’m not so keen on orange flowers, although I can imagine that the hills covered with California poppies would have looked pretty spectacular. I have to confess I had a ‘fluffy’ pink California poppy which flowered steadfastly for two years and then gave up. I liked it very much, and was sad that it didn’t set seed.

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    1. The seed eventually revert back to the more typical orange anyway, like nasturtiums revert to orange and yellow.. There is nothing wrong with the garden varieties of California poppy. They just are not as excellent at the original.

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    1. Yes, the colors are pretty, but the wild poppies are so perfect in pure orange! All the new varieties are pretty in the right situations. They just are not the same or as perfect as the originals.

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  4. I read a little book by John Muir years ago that described a walking trip he took from San Francisco to Yosemite. He described the wonder of walking through miles and miles of wildflowers – literally hundreds per square foot – all through the central valley. Florida was the same I think. That’s how it got it’s name. How amazing it must have been 2 or 300 yrs ago – with all the huge old trees – and millions of wildflowers in the spring…

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    1. The small swaths I remember from the 1980s were so nice that I can not imagine what fields of them must have been like.
      The redwoods around here are very impressive. Each one can provide enough lumber to build a house. Yet, their trunks are much smaller than the stumps of those that were harvested a century ago.

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  5. It’s sad that just in our lifetime things have changed so radically. It is the same with the wild animal populations. I had a friend in Florida who said when he was a kid he went duck hunting at small lakes by the Gulf of Mexico where he lives – and there were hundreds and hundreds of ducks. Now you will only see a few. It was interesting to hear you describe your own experience of the wildflowers in your area.
    There was an earthen dam near me on the lake we lived next to in Florida that was left “wild” for a few years and it was filled with wildflowers. There was a rough path down the middle of it and I remember walking that 100 foot trail and counting 99 butterfly chrysalises hanging on the wildflowers next to the trail. That didn’t count the ones all across the rest of the dam – just the ones I saw next to the path! There were sooo many butterflies! It was wonderful! Then the resort that owned the property decided they needed to mow it. I tried my darnedest to talk them out of it – but they didn’t listen… But it made me realize what we could do with even small things like that small patch of land filled with wildflowers. It helped “generate” hundreds of butterflies. And who knows what else…

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