Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1106 Eschscholzia californica

Common Names: California poppy Family: Papaveraceae (poppy Family)
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California poppy
A single California poppy blossom is delicate and brilliant and a meadow of thousands of these beauties in bloom inspires lifetime memories.


California poppy is an annual wild flower from California that has rightfully earned itself a place in gardens all over the world. The flowers can be brilliant orange, red or yellow, with (usually) four paper thin petals in a cup shaped arrangement measuring 2-3 in (5-7 cm) across. The leaves are finely dissected and fernlike, grayish green in color, 6-8 in (15-20 cm) long. This is an annual plant that gets up to a foot (30 cm) or so in height, with a slender and upright posture, branching from near its base. In mass, they form mats of grayish ferny foliage with brightly colored solitary flowers standing above. Several named cultivars in various colors including white are offered, as are cultivars with double flowers, multicolored flowers, and some that are smaller and more compact, and some that stand taller.


Eschscholzia californica grows wild in western North America, from Sonora and Baja through coastal California, northward through Oregon. They are among the most beautiful of native wildflowers in open, grassy, often hillside, habitats. Popular as a bedding annual in many parts of the world, California poppies have become naturalized in parts of Europe and Asia.


California poppies grow best on poor, well drained soils. If the soil is too fertile, they tend to produce lots of foliage and fewer flowers. Although usually an annual, California poppies are sometimes short lived perennials, overwintering for a second glorious season. Light: Grow California poppies in full sun. Moisture: These garden beauties like a well drained soil and can tolerate dry periods. They don't like constant dampness. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 10. Propagation: Sow seed in spring or in early autumn in mild climates. California poppies do not transplant well, so plant the seeds where you want the flowers to grow. In favorable situations, they may self seed, with the seeds overwintering and germinating the following spring.


The California poppy produces some of the brightest, most intense flower colors in the garden. They are easy to grow, and they bloom all summer long, right up to the first frost. This is one of the best annuals you can find for flower beds and borders. They thrive in a rock garden. Plant California poppies in a mass to get a carpet of brilliant color over grayish fernlike foliage. The individual flowers last a few days, closing up at night and during cloudy weather. To use as cut flowers (although they last only a few days), harvest before the buds are fully open.

The clear sap is said to have narcotic properties, and was used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.


Here in my steamy Florida Gulf Coast garden I have not had good luck with California poppies. Mine usually succumb to fungus diseases that cut their lives short before mid summer. California poppies do better in climates that are not so hot and humid. They are especially well adapted to maritime climates, and thrive on dry, sunny hillsides.

There are only 8 or 10 species in the genus Eschscholzia, all from northwestern North America. Besides the California poppy, three or four other species are in cultivation. That mouthful of a genus name is in honor of a 19th Century German doctor and naturalist named Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz.

Steve Christman 6/13/09

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Eschscholzia species profiled on Floridata:

Eschscholzia californica

( California poppy )

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