Mexican poppy mystery solved

In August noticed this little beauty in the succulent bed along the driveway:


I conjectured this might be a Mexican poppy, but I didn’t know.

This mystery poppy was still blooming two days ago when a gust of wind finally knocked the last petals off. But I still didn’t know what it was.

Until yesterday when we went for a walk through the UC Davis Arboretum and I saw this sign:


I’d been half right about the “Mexican poppy.” But instead being of a subspecies of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana), it’s actually in an entirely different genus: Hunnemannia. (Hunnemannia is what’s called a monotypic genus, meaning that it contains only one species, i.e. Hunnemannia fumariifolia.)

Both genera, Eschscholzia and Hunnemannia, are in the tribe Eschscholzieae of the subfamily Papaveroideae of the Papaveraceae family. I know, this is really TMI, but there you have it.


Unlike the California poppy, which is an annual, the Mexican tulip poppy is a perennial from the highlands of northern Mexico that tolerates even heavy clay soil and is root hardy to 15°F. It’s short-lived but it occasionally reseeds itself.

In cultivation the Mexican tulip poppy can grow to 2 ft tall and wide. That’s actually larger than I’d prefer because I don’t want the agaves nearby to be crowded. But it can be pruned to keep it more compact. For now, then, my specimen will stay.

I still have no idea where my plant came from. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in our neighborhood. The only possible explanation I have is that a few seeds of Hunnemannia fumariifolia might have been included in the California poppy seeds that I scattered all over this succulent bed last winter.


The photos I took at the UC Davis Arboretum yesterday make the foliage look greener than it is—I think it was the warm afternoon light. In reality, the leaves are noticeably bluer than those of the California poppy. I find this California poppy relative very attractive, and I’m happy it took up residence in our garden.


  1. Mystery almost entirely solved, and even better that it's a perennial!

    1. Gardening involves so many loose ends, it's nice to wrap up up for a change.

  2. Mystery partially solved. You know the what, if not the how...

  3. Since it came from seed, you'll probably want to move that, right? If one 2' plant might crowd the agaves, a little patch of them definitely will, and I assume you didn't deadhead? (Or at least can't be certain that you got every seedhead)

    It's really a nice plant though -- I'd be happy to see these turn up in my garden!

    1. It's a concern that it might get too big. Unfortunately, based on what I read, it's virtually impossible to move/transplant this poppy. The same is true for California poppies. I guess it's because of their deep taproots, which are their main water supply line.

  4. How exciting to find out the true name! I would love one to pop up in my garden : )


Post a Comment