Definitions

california-poppy

California poppy

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

Annual garden plant (Eschscholzia californica) in the poppy family, native to the western coast of North America and naturalized in parts of southern Europe, Asia, and Australia. The flowers are usually pale yellow, orange, or cream in the wild, but whites and shades of red and pink have been developed in cultivation. The foliage is gray-green and feathery. The flowers open only in sunlight. They blossom all summer in northern climates and into the winter in areas with mild winters.

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The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is native to grassy and open areas from sea level to 2,000m (6,500 feet) altitude in the western United States throughout California, extending to Oregon, southern Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and in Mexico in Sonora and northwest Baja California.

It can grow 5–60 cm tall, with alternately branching glaucous blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately divided into round, lobed segments. The flowers are solitary on long stems, silky-textured, with four petals, each petal 2-6 cm long and broad; their color ranges from yellow to orange, and flowering is from February to September. The fruit is a slender dehiscent capsule 3-9 cm long, which splits in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It is perennial in mild parts of its native range, and annual in colder climates; growth is best in full sun and sandy, well-drained, poor soil.

It grows well in disturbed areas and often recolonizes after fires. In addition to being planted for horticulture, revegetation, and highway beautification, it often colonizes along roadsides and other disturbed areas. It is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens. It is also pictured in welcome signs while entering California.

Taxonomy

The species is very variable, and over 90 synonyms exist. Some botanists accept two subspecies, one with four varieties (e.g. Leger and Rice, 2003), though others do not recognise them as distinct (e.g. Jepson 1993):

  • E. californica subsp. californica, native to California, Baja California, and Oregon, widely planted as an ornamental, and an invasive elsewhere (see below).
    • E.californica subsp. californica var. californica, which is found along the coast from the San Francisco Peninsula north. They are perennial and somewhat prostrate, with yellow flowers.
    • E. californica subsp. californica var. maritima (E. L. Greene) Jeps., which is found along the coast from Monterey south to San Miguel Island. They are perennial, long-lived, glaucous, short in stature, and have extremely prostrate growth and yellow flowers.
    • E. californica subsp. californica var. crocea (Benth.) Jeps., which grows in non-arid inland regions. They are perennial, taller, and have orange flowers.
    • E. California subsp. californica var. peninsularis (E. L. Greene) Munz, which is an annual or facultative annual growing in arid inland environments.
  • E. californica subsp. mexicana (E. L. Greene) C. Clark, the Mexican Goldpoppy, which is found in the Sonoran Desert.

History and uses

Eschscholzia californica was the first named member of the genus Eschscholzia, which was named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after another botanist, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, his friend and colleague on Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific expedition to California and the greater Pacific in the early 19th century.

The California poppy is the California state flower. It was selected as the state flower by the California State Floral Society in December 1890, winning out over the Mariposa lily (genus Calochortus) and the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) by a landslide, but the state legislature did not make the selection official until 1903. Its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State. April 6 of each year is designated "California Poppy Day."

Horticulturalists have produced numerous cultivars with various other colors and blossom and stem forms. These typically do not breed true on reseeding.

A common misconception associated with the plant, because of its status as a state flower, is that the cutting or damaging of the California poppy is illegal. There is no such law in California, outside of state law that makes it a misdemeanor to cut or remove any plant growing on state or county highways or public lands except by authorized government employees and contractors; it is also against the law to remove plants on private property without the permission of the owner (Cal. Penal Code Section 384a).

California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically. The seeds are used in cooking.

Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked. The effect is far milder than that of opium, which contains a different class of alkaloids.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is located in northern Los Angeles County, California. At the peak of the blooming season, orange petals seem to cover all 1,745 acres (7 km²) of the reserve.

As an invasive species

Because of its beauty and ease of growing, the California poppy was introduced into several regions with similar Mediterranean climates. It is commercially sold and widely naturalized in Australia, and was introduced to South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. In Chile, it was introduced from multiple sources between the mid 1800s and the early 1900s. It appears to have been both intentionally imported as an ornamental garden plant, and accidentally introduced along with alfalfa seed grown in California. Since Chile and California have similar climatic regions and have experienced much agricultural exchange, it is perhaps not surprising that it was introduced to Chile. Once there, its perennial forms spread primarily in human-disturbed environments (Leger and Rice, 2003).

Interestingly, the introduced Chilean populations of California poppy appear to be larger and more fecund in their introduced range than in their native range (Leger and Rice, 2003). Introduced populations have been noted to be larger and more reproductively successful than native ones (Elton, 1958), and there has been much speculation as to why. Increase in resource availability, decreased competition, and release from enemy pressure have all been proposed as explanations.

One hypothesis is that the resources devoted in the native range to a defense strategy, can in the absence of enemies be devoted to increased growth and reproduction (the EICA Hypothesis, Blossey & Nötzold, 1995). However, this is not the case with introduced populations of E. californica in Chile: the Chilean populations were actually more resistant to Californian caterpillars than the native populations (Leger and Forister, 2005).

Within the USA, it is also recognized as a potentially invasive species, being classified in Tennessee as a Rank 3 (Lesser Threat) species, i.e. an exotic plant species that spreads in or near disturbed areas, and is not presently considered a threat to native plant communities (Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council). Also, no indications of ill effects have been reported for this plant where it has been introduced outside of California. Ironically, it has been displaced in large areas of its original habitat, such as Southern California, by more invasive exotic species, such as mustard or annual grasses.

It is not known whether efforts are being undertaken anywhere in its introduced range to control or prevent further spread, nor what methods would be best suited to do so.

References

  • Blossey, B., and R. Nötzold. 1995. Evolution of increased competitive ability in invasive non-indigenous plants: a hypothesis. Ecology 83: 887-889.
  • Elton, C. S. The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Chapman & Hall, London.
  • Leger, E. A. and K. J. Rice. 2003. Invasive California poppies (Eschscholzia californica Cham.) grow larger than native individuals under reduced competition. Ecology Letters 6:257-264.
  • Leger, E. A., and M. L. Forister. 2005. Increased to generalist herbivores in invasive populations of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Diversity and Distributions 11: 311-317.
  • Jepson Flora Project (1993): Eschscholzia californica
  • The California poppy and its relatives

External links

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