Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
November, 2001
Regional Report

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California poppies pop up everywhere. Scatter seed from early fall through late spring for almost-year-round bloom.

California Poppies and Our Good Life

California's state flower has always symbolized The Good Life in The Golden State. In Indian lore, the Great Spirit sent Fire Flower to drive away the evils of frost and famine, and to fill the land with warmth and plenty. More recently, Indians used the fresh roots as a toothache remedy, and the foliage as a cooked vegetable. The Luisenos Indians near San Diego chewed the petals like chewing gum.

Cup of Gold

To the Spaniards, the bright yellow-orange poppies were an omen promising wealth and fertility. They called the flower "Copa de Oro," Cup of Gold; and "Amapola, Torosa and Dormidera," the Sleep Ones, since they close at night and when it's cloudy or windy. Some were convinced that poppies would make hair grow: the petals were mixed with olive oil or suet, cooked over a slow fire, and strained; the resulting "Pomada de Amapola" was faithfully rubbed onto balding heads.

The Land of Fire

The vast fields of poppies were also called "La Tierra Del Fuego," the land of fire. Sailors marveling at the fields of poppies blanketing southern California shores in the late 1700s called the sight "La Sabanilla de San Pasqual," the altar cloth of St. Pascal, after the shepherd saint who tended his flock and knelt in the fields of wildflowers to commune with God.

Rancho San Pasqual, today's southern California communities of Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre, was where some of the most spectacular fields of poppies grew.

The '49ers also honored the bloom -- it shared the color and the plenty of the precious metal they sought. Some believed that gold formed where the petals fell to the ground. Many pressed the blossoms in their letters home, further promoting the fantasy that was to become California.

Origins of the Name

The bloom's tongue-twister botanical name, Eschscholtzia californica, comes from its namesake, Johann Frederich Eschscholtz, a friend of the bloom's "discoverer." Naturalist Edelbert von Chamisso was part of a Russian expedition on board the ship Rorik in 1816, when he recognized the California poppy as a new species and named it after his friend, the ship's surgeon, and its land of origin.

The poppy was designated as California's state flower in 1903. Although it is indigenous only to California and small areas of Oregon and Arizona, it has spread worldwide, as far as India and Australia.

You, too, can grow the California Poppy in your garden -- if you don't pamper it too much. Remember its origins -- in the wild, little water, poor soil, and no human attention. What more could the novice or veteran gardener want, drought or not?

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