P80317+California poppies are like no other wildflower. They are so perfectly bright orange, and look almost synthetically uniform in profusion, as if painted onto coastal plains and hillsides. They may be a bit more yellowish in some regions, or a bit deeper orange in others, but they are always bright and strikingly uniform.
Genetic variation is naturally very rare. I can remember hiking with my Pa up to the (lesser known) Portola Monument in the hills behind Montara, and finding a few pale white poppies, and even fewer pale purple poppies. It was like finding four leaf clovers! Genetic variants among California poppies are not quite as rare as four leaf clovers are, but finding a few of both white and purple was really strange. I never found a pink one though.
Nowadays, poppies can bloom in all sorts of shades and hues or orange, yellow, red, pink and soft purple, as well as creamy white. Some bloom with fluffy double flowers. Of course, all this variety is not natural. California poppies were bred to do this.
The potential problem with such breeding is that California poppy is naturally very prolific with seed. Any of these weirdly bred varieties could escape into the wild and interbreed with wild poppies, causing them to be more variable, and interfere with the ecosystem.
The problem is not just with California poppies. Many plants get bred extensively enough to interfere with how they behave in the wild if they happen to escape cultivation.
Fortunately for California poppies, the weird new varieties do not really get very far in the wild. The are not true-to-type, so revert back to their original bright orange in just a few generations, even without outside influence. If pollinators do not recognize their unfamiliar color and form, they are less likely to get pollinated to continue to tamper with the ecology. In fact, wild California poppies still have the advantage in that regard.
This yellow California poppy with an orange center is a second generation seedling, and is already halfway between the original yellow variety, and the wild orange.

8 thoughts on “Horridculture – Bad Seed

  1. Very interesting. I recently grew Californian poppies for the first time- a cream flowering variety. I was amazed by their prolific self-seeding and have been looking forward to the second generation next Spring. Now I’m wondering what colour(s) I’ll actually get. Fascinating.

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      1. I do that with nasturtium every few years or so. I try new varieties, and let them revert back to the common yellow and orange. Fortunately, the common yellow and orange are my favorite. I just try new varieties for the sake of trying them.

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  2. Sorry Tony, but as a 23 year veteran Biology teacher, I’m going to have to correct you on your genetics. The different colors are naturally occurring variants, it’s just that they are recessive to the common orange and so frequently don’t show up in the wild unless the parents contribute the right combination of those traits to the offspring. It’s kind of like how two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child, but only if they each carry and contribute the recessive blue-eyed gene (my oldest son is living proof of this). The poppy you show in your picture is not half-way returning to the orange state, that pattern is also a naturally occurring variant, but again is recessive to the solid color pattern. I have several of these growing in my yard and I don’t have to reseed. I get all the various colors and patterns returning each year simply because the seed mix I used increased the odds of those colors and patterns showing up. As for it’s impact on the ecosystem, insects and other pollinators don’t see colors the same way we do, and since these are natural variants I’m not sure that the situation is so dire. In any case, were these seeds to escape into wild areas, the sheer number of the dominant genes for orange color and solid pattern would still dominate and dilute the recessive genes. Already after a few years in my yard, the number of different color offspring has decreased because they are recessive to the orange.

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  3. We have some wild, wild Cap poppy colour variants here in our weed flora – I found a pure hot red one last summer. There are cultivars available here but where I see them they wee never planted – just weeds.

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