California Poppy

Wild California poppies are bright orange.

Even after so many pretty shades of yellow, red, pink and and white have been been developed, the natural orange of the native California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is still the best. That is probably why they all eventually revert to orange after reseeding. Although native, they do not reseed everywhere, and actually seem to be more reliable in unrefined and unamended areas of the garden than in rich soil with generous irrigation. However, a bit of watering can prolong sporadic bloom until autumn. Bloom otherwise ends before warm summer weather.

California poppy is grown as an annual because the perennial plants get tired rather quickly. They fortunately self sow prolifically. Flowers are typically about two inches wide, with four petals. The intricately lobed leaves are slightly bluish. Foliage is not much more than half a foot deep.

Poppies . . . again

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.


P71213+K1Not just any poppies; California poppies, the state flower of California.

So why the picture of an old cinder block wall on the edge of an unkempt and weathered parking lot behind the old County Bank Building? Well, right there in the middle of the picture, where the lowest course of block meets the edge of the pavement are a few weeds, and some of these weeds are poppies showing how resilient they can be.

California poppies are opportunistic. They grow fast and bloom when they can. For most, that means that they bloom as the weather starts to warm up at the end of winter. For others in irrigated gardens, they can bloom in phases through summer. Some do their thing quickly as soon as they get a bit of moisture from the first autumn rains or even dew. They know what time of year it is, and that the weather will not likely get hot enough to cook them; so they bloom and throw their seed for another generation in a few more months, or maybe many months from now. They adapt. That is how they live on the edges of forests of the Santa Cruz Mountain, to interior valley chaparral, to the Mojave Desert. They are a remarkable specie.

Remember the poppies in the Wizard of Oz? There are several theories about what those poppies represent, and why the put Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and Toto to sleep without affecting Scarecrow and TinMan. Duh, Scarecrow and TinMan do not breath. They can not inhale the narcotic produced by the poppies. Even if they did, they lack the physiology to be susceptible to opiates.

There is a significance to poppies blooming today, the same day I wrote about the gingko, on December 13; but this ain’t Oz.P71213+K2