Called the “queen of all flowers” by Mary Elizabeth Parsons in her 1897 book The Wild Flowers of California, matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) is a sight to see. This shrub with flowers the size of saucers and the look of fried eggs is a commanding presence and demands room to live up to its potential (it does spread and will crowd out weaker neighbors).
|Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) just starting to bloom. The shrub can grow to 9 x 9 ft.|
Our yard is too small for one but luckily there are several stands along the greenbelt near our house. As you can see in the photos below, they are just now starting to bloom—an event I look forward to every year.
Matilija poppy is native to the coastal inland ranges of southern California and parts of Baja California. It’s named after Chief Matilija of the Chumash tribe who lived in the hills and valley of Ventura County in the early 1800s. The correct pronunciation, by the way, is “ma-TILA-huh”.
|Some flowers are up to 9 inches in diameter. While the flowers are the main attraction, I find the blue-gray foliage to be quite attractive as well.|
It’s a carefree shrub once established but can be temperamental when young: It hates being transplanted and is fussy about watering (just the right amount—neither too little nor too much), and it will sulk or even die if not given what it wants. Fortunately this juvenile phase doesn’t last long, and after that the plant is very drought-tolerant and loves south- or west-facing spots that bake in the sun.
Propagation is reputed to be difficult. Seeds need the heat of fire to germinate (simulated in some nurseries by burning pine needles on top of flats with freshly sown seeds), and starting from cuttings or rhizome divisions is an uphill battle, as described here. That explains why matilija poppy isn’t exactly a mainstay of the nursery trade. However, once you’ve seen one in all its glory, you’ll forever want one in your yard. Matilija poppy is hardy to 0°F (zone 7).
|The crêpe-paper petals are very delicate and flutter in the slightest breeze.|
For more information, check out this interesting article from the Los Angeles Times.
6/14/11 UPDATE: Check out this post for more photos.