HOLDINGS>Historic Photographs>Edward Stuhl Wildflower Collection>Matilija Poppy
"The Matilija Poppy must be conceded the queen of all flowers," wrote Mary Elizabeth Parsons in her charming 1897 book, The Wild Flowers of California. What caught her eye were the huge-four to eight inches across-chalk white, uniquely fragrant blossoms. This stunning flower has six petals that seem to be made of soft crepe paper that has been crumpled and then pleated. The center, a golden cluster of dozens of pollen bearing stamen, elicits the descriptive popular name 'fried-egg" plant.
Matilija (pronounced ma-til-li-ha) is the lovely name given by native Americans, who appreciated its beauty and value as a medicinal plant. In The late nineteenth century, the renowned botanist Alice Eastwood named it trichocalyx-trico meaning "hair" and calyx meaning "sepals" for the three leafy parts covering the bud.
The species painted by Edward Stuhl is found along the Ventura Coast of California and the surrounding canyons, including the aptly named Matalija Canyon of the Ventura River. Along the California Coast and throughout the Coast Range from Santa Barbara to upper Baja, the very similar Romneya coulteri is commonly found. This species has smaller flowers and is a larger plant. Most distinctively, however, its buds are smooth and waxy.
Both species of the Matilija Poppy have been hybridized and these varieties are available form commercial nurseries. One of the best is called "White Cloud" which closely resembles Edward Stuhl's painting. Quite popular in England, it grows equally well in our local environs. This succulent and fast-growing shrub is unsuited for small gardens for it can reach a height of eight feet ad once established becomes very invasive. The Matilija Poppy requires a well-drained soil (do not over-water!) and does best on sunny hillsides or open spaces. To encourage flower-bearing branches measuring four to six feet, cut the plant back to the ground each winter.
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Last updated: 05/06/02