The California golden poppy attained official status as California’s state flower on March 2, 1903. The state’s legislative body ratified a decision reached some 13 years prior by a botanical society that voted the poppy the flower most appropriate to represent California, choosing it over another type of poppy and a lily. The golden poppy is a brilliant flower that often grows together in great numbers and is the most geographically widespread of 15 different poppies that exist in the Golden State.
The scientific name of the California golden poppy is Eschscholzia californica. The flower’s name honors the German surgeon Friedrich Gustav von Eschscholtz, who was also a naturalist that visited the San Francisco Bay region in 1815. Eschscholtz visited the area again in 1824 during another around-the-world trip before his death in 1831 at the age of 38. Adelbert von Chamisso, his close friend, named the California poppies they found growing in great numbers in the hilly fields near the ocean.
Geography and Habitat
The native geographical range of the California golden poppy extends down the Pacific Coast, from the southwest part of Washington State to California's Baja region. The flower also exists in countries such as Australia, Chile and New Zealand as an introduced species. It was brought there during the Gold Rush, as the seeds made their way onto ships visiting California and then abroad. The plant's bitter taste discourages animals from eating it, but when they eat other plants around it, they inadvertently eliminate any competition for the poppy, allowing it to dominate a field.
The leaves of the golden poppy appear delicate and are a green-blue combination of colors. The height of an average poppy plant is between 12 and 18 inches, and the flowers are 2 to 3 inches wide. They have four petals that react to the cold and nightfall by closing. The flower's seeds develop in 3-inch long pods, which, when they dry out, split open and deposit the seeds all over the landscape.
The American Indians of the West Coast found several uses for the golden poppy; they would boil the greens and eat them. Others used the poppy as a cure for toothaches and head lice. The plant has uses as a sedative, an antispastic and an analgesic; it is not an addictive plant like its cousin, the opium poppy.
The golden poppy is a popular flower that gardeners can use in flowerbeds and along garden borders. The plant doesn't transplant well because it has a very deep taproot, making it prudent to grow them from seeds in a garden setting. Golden poppies thrive in an area that receives full sun and drains well.