Two honeybees visiting a matilija poppy
Stable

Matilija Poppy

Romneya coulter
  • DIVISION: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
  • CLASS: Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons)
  • ORDER: Ranunculales
  • FAMILY: Papaveraceae
  • GENUS: Romneya
  • SPECIES: coulteri

OVERVIEW

For obvious reasons, the matilija poppy is often called the "fried-egg plant." Its blossoms' sunny-side-up appearance makes it a striking addition to a garden, especially since its flower stalks can grow 6 to 8 feet tall.

This plant has a huge flower but a small native range—it grows naturally in chaparral and coastal scrub habitats in southern California and Baja California, Mexico.

CHARACTERISTICS

Averaging 5 to 6 inches in diameter, the Matilija poppy blossom is the largest of any native California plant. The thin, wrinkled petals look as if they are made of crepe paper.

Even without its large, crinkled, and fragrant flowers, its frilled blue-gray leaves make this clumping perennial an attractive plant. But beware, it can be invasive, as it  spreads through underground runners (one person reported a new plant up about 20 feet from the original shrub).

CULTIVATION

How can a plant be described as both aggressive and finicky? Location, location, location. Plant a Matilija poppy in "the wrong place," and it will wither and die. However, if you happen to choose just the right spot, it will settle in nicely—and in later years may colonize your garden.

They tend to prefer gravelly soil, so choose a well-draining spot. In nature, they are often found in sunny chaparral and coastal sage scrub communities; sometimes along stream banks and roadsides.

In nature, the seeds only germinate after a fire (don't try this at home), so the best option is to purchase a plant from a nursery. Experts strongly urge caution during transplant—the roots don't like to be disturbed. Planting in the fall is encouraged, as it gives the plant a chance to acclimate during winter rains.

Rationing water during the summer may keep the plant in check. It is also advised to cut the plant to just a few inches tall in the fall—it will roar back to life soon enough.

USES

With its vigorous root system, this plant makes a great erosion-preventative when planted on slopes. And given its expansive nature, it can be a showstopper in an extremely large area of landscaping, especially as a wide border treatment.

 

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Sounds

NAME ORIGIN

Matilija (mah-TIL-ih-ha) was the name of a Chumash chief in Ventura County. Canyons and creeks were named in his honor, as was this majestic flower.

 

ROYALTY

Among California native plant admirers, this poppy is known as the "Queen of California".

 

FLASH EXPOSURE

Like so many chaparral native plants, the seeds of Matilija poppies need to experience the flash heat of a fast-moving wildfire in order to germinate.

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