German poet and naturalist, A. von Chamisso, first collected
and described the California Poppy while on a world scientific expedition
in 1816. He named it for his associate, Dr. J.F. Eschscholtz, the
ship's surgeon. Of course, long before that the California Natives
had named it in their many languages, and knew the young leaves could
be cooked for food or that a bit of root on an aching tooth reduced
A poppy is made of four, fan-shaped petals neatly coiled inside
the pointed cap of the flower bud which precisely unfurls like a carefully
folded flag on warm sunny days. At night and on chilly or rainy days
the petals recoil-almost disappearing. On other flowers, the leafy
structures outside the petals (sepals) are separated, but the poppy's
are joined together forming a unique "elf cap." When this cap separates
form the opening flower, it leaves behind a characteristic rim (torus)
which is a distinguishing feature of the species.
The Spanish charmingly called it "copa de oro" or "cup of gold'
and also "amapola." Sailing up and down the California coastline as
the rays of the setting sun reflected off of the shiny petals, Spanish
mariners saw the flame of poppies upon the coast ranges and exclaimed,
"This is the land of fire."
The same scene excited the imagination of the '49ers on their
way to the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada. After the gold had "played
out," the miners set sail for new strikes in Chile, new Zealand, and
Australia, and they used sand from the bluffs at San Francisco as
ballast for their ships; in it were poppy seeds. Since then, these
countries have had a widespread, but not entirely unwelcome, new weed.
Gardens all over the world have been brightened by out golden poppy
and flower breeders have developed many colorful varieties that range
in hue from white to red-some even sport ruffles!
The masses of poppies and other flowers which carpeted the
valleys in john Muir's time have been replace by plants that were
brought inadvertently by the Spanish from the Mediterranean, Today,
we see fields of tall grasses such a wild oats, ripgut, and medusa
head, along with yellow star thistle. These weeds which shade and
compete with native flowers, along with factors such as infrequent
burning of hillsides and soil compacted by livestock, have diminished
the poppy's abundance.
While most of Edward Stuhl's watercolors were painted in the
filed on Mount Shasta, this area is above the normal range for the
California Poppy. This painting was inspired form flowers gathered
in the Santa Lucia Mountains in the spring of 1953 while Stuhl and
his wife Rosa vacationed in the Monterey area. How pleased he must
have been to record this glorious flower!
Redwood Penstemon &
(*currently for sale)
through the wildflowers
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Last updated: 05/07/02