Notes from the Field: Poppies Springing out of Dormancy

CA Poppies
Spring has sprung and so has the California poppy.

It’s hard to deny that spring has arrived in California. Our coastal areas and foothills are lighting up with the floral blues of miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), the vivid purples of blue-eyed grass (sisyrinchium bellum), the glowing oranges of sticky monkey flower (mimulus aurantiacus) and our state flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Though the scientific name of the California poppy may be nearly impossible to pronounce — it gets its namesake from Livonian naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz — this doesn’t stop us from celebrating the beauty and resiliency of this iconic flower.

On April 6th, 70 Save The Bay volunteers gathered at Eden Landing in Hayward and the MLK shoreline in Oakland to celebrate California Poppy Day by participating in a public community-based restoration program. Though the California poppy is just one of roughly 30 native plants we propagate and install at wetland restoration sites around the Bay, it is certainly one of my personal favorites. Not only is the California poppy quite beautiful, it is also extremely hardy, making it a prime species for use in wetland restoration.

The California poppy is native to the west coast of North America, ranging from Washington state down through Baja California, and as far inland as Texas. Pollinated by beetles as well as introduced European bees, the poppy can exhibit the lifecycle of both an annual (living for one growing season) or perennial (living for multiple growing seasons) flowering plant. The poppy acts as an annual when in harsh, dry living conditions or during drought years, while it can function as a perennial when in more favorable conditions. This flexibility makes the California poppy a wonderful drought escaper, as it can remain in an area in dormant seed form until adequate moisture is available.

Though our restoration sites are a great place to see California poppies in bloom, true poppy enthusiasts recognize the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve as the Holy Grail of poppy populations. Located in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, this state park’s rolling hills explode with acres of poppy fields every spring. Want to get to know the poppy a little better? Come join us for a restoration program?