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.





3 thoughts on “BLUE, WHITE, AND GOLD

  1. It definitely has the poppy petals, that I like. I’ve read that some Romneya coulteri have leaves of an interesting blue hue. I’d love to see that! Thanks, David!

  2. An amazing poppy and at eight feet tall a plant that everyone will look up to!
    I just had to look up the two Doctors (Robinson and Coulter) and find that they both studied at Trinity College in Dublin. Also, you mention that Robinson was an astronomer which intrigued me, as I am aware of the renowned observatory in Armagh City which was founded in 1789 and Robinson was a long time director of the observatory (he was also the inventor of the ANEMOMETER which measures wind speed).

  3. dennisjoyleary

    Until I got burned out in the Thomas fire a couple years ago, I lived near Ojai, Southern Cal. The word Matilija was all over the place: dam, valley, streets, stores, valleys, roads, wilderness, parks; you name it. I lived in the Ventura river bottom in a commune. I never appreciated it until I lost it. Now I live in Wisconsin where I was born and raised with relatives on a cranberry farm. We have our own kind of beauty with the seasons and flowers but sadly no matilijas that I know of. Thanks for resurrecting fragrant memories in an eighty year old fading flower.

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