California Poppy; Sunshine On A Stick


California Poppies in their native habitat are a BYD experience. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza


I sat very still and inhaled deeply but I didn’t dare close my eyes. I was sitting cross-legged in a field of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) just off the road in Antelope Valley, California and I didn’t want to miss a moment of the pure golden light shining through the silky orange petals as they danced in the wind around me. It was a magical, spiritual experience that I don’t have the talent to properly describe.


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Stop and enjoy the California poppies, near Lancaster. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza


Like other spiritual experiences, it is what we take and use in our everyday life that is often the lasting gift. The California state flower, poppies make a lovely addition to the landscape with their sweep of seasonal color. I have used them to good effect for quick fill in young native gardens, to bring first year satisfaction while waiting for new perennials to put down sturdy roots and fill out the landscape.


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Hiking Trails In The Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza


Poppies have colonized the green roof of the California Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park and if you travel into San Francisco along 19th Avenue, the sturdy blooms can even be enjoyed along the Cal Train tracks in the middle of the road during a cool summer.. How lucky we are, here in the west, to have such a wonderful “weed” in our urban wild spaces.


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Native plants on the green roof of the California Academy of Science. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza


The mistake that I see many people make when trying to grow this California native is to plant it in early summer when they are traditionally thinking about their garden. This takes a lot more effort and more water than following the natural life-cycle of this lovely plant. In nature, the tiny black seeds will germinate with the first fall rains and develop into feathery plants throughout our cool and rainy winter. In my experience, the best poppy years, in a garden, are the ones with the earliest and most consistent rains which give the plants the most time to develop their extensive tap root.


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California poppies open their golden cups in bright sunshine. Photo; Joy Albright-Souza

For open, sunny, un-irrigated  margins of the garden, poppies are like sunshine-on-a-stick and should have a place in any California landscape.

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Joy in a field of California Poppies. Photo; Frank Souza


I recommend to those who are interested, to plan a road trip to the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve in southern California at some point your lives. Aim for visiting at that elusive peak flowering time, that changes from year to year but is generally between March and May. The state park webpage is helpful for determining when that may be.

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Categories: Native Plants, Places to See


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2 Comments on “California Poppy; Sunshine On A Stick”

  1. November 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm #

    Joy- I stumbled onto this while researching Thai Silk poppies that I read about in a Pacific Hort. article. What a lovely piece! And what a lovely photo Frank took of you! You are such a delightful writer – expressing the joy (!) you get from plants and gardens. Claudia 11/13/14

  2. November 13, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Claudia, you are so kind! Thank you for taking the time to comment. I know you will enjoy growing your poppies.

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