It’s been a dry winter here in Southern California. Many areas normally covered in lush carpets of our state flower, the Golden Poppy, are still waiting for seeds to germinate. Two recent big storms have, finally, helped things along, and small patches are starting to bloom. At the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, its rolling hills and eight miles of trails may soon look like this:
I’ve visited the reserve when it’s in action, and it’s a site to see, with meadowlarks singing happily and hawks soaring overhead. Quite a relief from a hectic suburb!
California’s Indians valued the poppy as a boiled or roasted food source, and for an oil derived from the plant. Supposedly, the herbage, when boiled in water, also formed a morphine-like drug that the tribes used to aid insomnia and headaches. When Russian sailors roamed the California coast in the 1800′s, they were awed at the golden waves of this native flower that the Spaniards called copa de oro, or cup of gold.
The four-petal, fan shaped blooms are normally bright orange but can appear as pale yellow –occasionally cream– and have fern-like leaves. Found in grassy, open meadows, the poppy also thrives in sandy and rocky places, grows wild along roadsides and its quick spring growth can ease areas that have been denuded by wildfires. Although common in the Mojave Desert, you can find California’s poppy from southern Washington to New Mexico, even Texas. Prime time is February through September. Although the flower grows wild, it is possible to landscape with it by planting seeds the previous fall.
When Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist who was a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, dropped anchor in San Francisco Bay in 1816, the golden hills of “flame flowers” surrounding him inspired him to give them the botanical name Eschsholtzia californica. In December 1890, The California State Floral Society met to vote on an official flower for our state. Two of the three nominees received little attention; by an overwhelming landslide, the golden poppy became our certified bloom! Every April 6 is designated California Poppy Day, and Governor Pete Wilson proclaimed May 13-18 Poppy Week in 1996.
I think it’s more than fitting to have the Golden Poppy as our state flower. Who doesn’t remember the California Gold Rush? Or visualize The Golden Gate Bridge as a symbol of “the Golden State?”