What is California Poppy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

California poppy or Eschscholzia californica is a member of the poppy family native to North America. It is most widely distributed across the grassy areas of California, Mexico, and Oregon, and was adopted as the California State Flower in 1890. In addition to being seen abundantly in its native range, the California poppy can also be cultivated, and it is a popular flower for use in revegetation and highway beautification projects.

The California poppy was adopted as the California State Flower in 1890.
The California poppy was adopted as the California State Flower in 1890.

Wild California poppies are orange to golden in color, with distinctive showy cup-shaped flowers and feathery greenish-blue foliage. They are annuals, readily reseeding themselves to spread as they find an area they thrive in. In temperate climates, a California poppy can bloom almost year round, while the blooming period may be restricted to the summer in regions with cooler winters. Generally, California poppies will grow well in USDA zones six through 10.

The flowers only bloom during the day, closing up at night or in cloudy conditions when there is not enough sunlight. The plants prefer bright areas and well-drained soil, but they can thrive in harsh soils such as those found adjacent to the ocean. Botanists have discovered a number of subspecies, some of which appear to be uniquely adapted for specific regions.

Outside of its native range, the California poppy is sometimes treated as an invasive species. Because the flowers reseed prolifically and thrive in a lot of environments, they can quickly get out of control, especially in areas with sensitive native plants. A number of cultivars including white, pink, and red poppies have been developed, making the California poppy appealing to gardeners and increasing the risk that the plant will spread beyond its native range. Some botanists have also raised concerns about the dangers of interbreeding between native and cultivated species.

This plant is also sometimes known as copa de oro or “cup of gold,” referencing the rich color. People who are interested in seeing California poppies in their native environment may want to consider visiting the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, which features vast plains of poppies which turn bright gold during the blooming season. These plants also commonly appear after fires and other events which push out native vegetation.

Highway beautification programs often seed the California poppy because these plants grow quickly, look attractive, and can endure the harsh conditions by the highway. The poppies can also be used to control erosion, reducing mudslides which may block the road during the rainy season. Revegetation programs can also employ California poppies for the purpose of holding the soil in place and enriching it so that other species can slowly be introduced.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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