This pure white flower with the golden center, growing against today’s blue summer sky, is the rather amazing Matilija Poppy. It is native to the Matilija Wilderness in southern California, as well as other relatively dry areas in southern California and nearby Baja California.
Oddly enough, I first encountered it in a large vacant lot here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. This region is far wetter and often colder in winter than its home territory. It had been established in that lot for many long years, and had grown many new plants there from sending out rhizomes.
The surprising thing is not only that it grows vigorously well out of its native region, but also that the flowers are the size of saucers, and the example I have in my garden (the one shown here) is about eight feet high.
The catch, though, is that it is very difficult to grow from seed. The trick seems to be burning pine needles over them. That appears to imitate the wildfires that periodically and naturally sweep through its native habitat.
The much easier method of propagation is to use root (rhizome) cuttings, but it can be very touchy about being transplanted, so one must treat the cuttings and new plants with care at first. It is often available in nurseries — at least in the western coastal states, and buying it that way is easiest of all. Once established, it does very well.
In my region it tends to die back in cold winters, but sprouts energetically again in the spring.
The name Matilija (pronounced muh-TIL-i-hah), it is said, comes originally from that of Matâ’ilha, a Native American Chumash village. The scientific name of the plant — Romney coulteri — combines the “Romney” from the name of the Irish astronomer Dr. Thomas Romney Robinson (1792-1882), with that of Dr. Thomas Coulter (1793-1843), an Irish botanist who first came across the plant while collecting botanical specimens in in 1831-32.