Botany

California Poppy



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The California poppy is an all American plant named by a German on a Russian ship. In July 1815 Otto von Kotzebue set sail on the tiny Russian brig with a 27 man crew. His mission, sponsored by the Russian government, was to explore the Pacific Ocean and search for the northwest passage. Also on board were the German botanists Adelbert von Chamisso and Johan Friedrich von Eschscholtz. Adelbert named one Eschscholzia californica in honour of his colleague.

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is deservedly the California state flower. It is a golden flower for the golden state.

When in flower vast tracts of land are carpeted with orange yellow flowers. These flowers are best seen in Bear Valley, Point Buchon and throughout the 7 square kilometre Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Flowering usually takes place between mid February and mid May. The exact timing depends upon seasonal rainfall patterns.

Outside California the California poppy can be found on open land throughout the western United States and Mexico from southern Washington to northwest Baja California. The plant thrives exposed to the full sun on sandy, well drained poor soil. At the extremes of its range it is an annual elsewhere it is perennial.

The California poppy is easy to identify. It has a blue-green feather like foilage. Each plant typically grows from 5 to 60 centimetres tall. Single flowers grow from long stems. On each flower there are four petals which vary in colour from yellow to orange. The petals are large and broad; each may be up to 6 centimetres long. Blooms close at night, in cold winds and in cloudy weather. Unless deadheaded the California poppy readily goes to seed. The plant turns brown and produces a seed capsule from which seeds are dispersed in the wind.

The California poppy is very robust. This plant readily colonizes disturbed ground and with the influence of man has spread widely around the world. It is drought-tolerant and self-seeding. It can be found in a wide variety of forms, in terms of colour, size of flower and stem. Moreover, the California poppy is easy to grow and is frequently sold as a garden plant. The cultivars generally do not breed true when reseeded.

This plant is so prolific that it has started to cause probles as an invasive species in Mediterranean climes where it has been introduced. The plant has naturalised in Australia, South Africa, Chile and Argentinia. The California poppy was introduced to Chile between 1850 and 1900 as an ornamental plant and as a contaminant which arrived with imported Californian alfalfa seed. It has become more prolific than the original plant in California.

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