California Poppy

California Poppy © AFengler

Eschscholzia californica

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Poppy Family (Papaveraceae)
  • Annual herb or short-lived perennial
    • Grows from a fleshy taproot
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
    • Gray-green and finely dissected
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) of solitary flowers, rising on long stems (peduncles) from the leaf junctions (axillary)
    • Large, bowl-shaped flower
      • 4 petals are bright golden orange
      • Numerous orange stamens
      • 2 fused sepals form a hood (calyptra), which encloses the bud and lifts off as a unit as the flower opens
    • Flower base (receptacle) is a distinct flat, pink disk, called a torus
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is an elongated, ribbed capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
  • Height up to 2 ft.


  • Native to California
    • Grows in many sunny habitats, including grasslands, sand dunes, chaparral, and open areas
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in southern Washington, Nevada, New Mexico, and northwestern Baja California, Mexico
  • Grows at elevations to 8,200 ft.
Insect Coated with Pollen © DSchiel

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Numerous insects are attracted to the abundant pollen (Smither-Kopperl 2018)
      • Common pollinators include many species of beetles and bees, including bumblebees (Apidae), sweat bees (Halictidae), mining bees (Andrenidae), and European honey bees (Apis mellifera)
    • Seeds provide food for birds and small mammals
  • Native people
    • Medicinal uses
      • Root juice for tuberculosis and stomachaches, as a wash for suppurating sores, and as an emetic
      • Leaves applied for toothache
      • Decoction of flowers rubbed into hair to kill lice
    • Leaves boiled or roasted and eaten as greens
  • Leaves contain isoquinoline alkaloids, which can have hypnotic and sedative effects, and flavone glycosides, which are antispasmodic and blood vessel tonics
  • Although the Poppy family contains many poisonous plants, no toxicity has been documented for the California poppy

Name Derivation

  • Eschscholzia (esh-SHOLE-tzee-a) – named by botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after his friend and co-explorer, Dr. Johann Friedrich Gustav von Eschscholtz (1793-1831), a surgeon, entomologist, and botanist who traveled with Russian expeditions to the Pacific coast in 1816 and 1824
    • Naturalist Archibald Menzies, who arrived in California with Captain George Vancouver’s HMS Discovery exploratory voyage in 1792, collected this poppy, but it was Chamisso who collected, named, and, in 1820, published a description of the plants he found in 1816 in the sand dunes of the northern San Francisco peninsula (Sonoran Desert 2015)
    • Chamisso’s original specimen remains in a herbarium in Saint Petersburg, Russia
    • Eschscholtz’s name was incorrectly spelled when translated to Eschscholzia, but according to nomenclature rules, it can not be corrected and remains missing its “t” (Beidleman 2004)
Leaves (L), Flower Bud (LM), Flower (RM), Seed Pod (R)
© DSchiel (L, RM, R), KKorbholz (LM)


  • California poppies (Eschscholzia species), nightshades (Solanum species), and wild roses (Rosa species) are examples of plants with nectarless flowers that offer only pollen
    • Pollen provides no immediate energy, so bees foraging on these flowers must intermittently visit nectar-bearing plants to keep their sugar buzz (Thorp 2002)
  • Flowers open in the morning and close in the evening or when it’s cloudy
    • This process is an example of nyctinasty, which refers to diurnal and nocturnal changes (single or repetitive) exhibited by the leaves and flowers of some plants (van Doorn 2003)
    • Californios called the poppy dormidera, “the sleepy one”
  • As the season progresses, the flowers become smaller and the base of the flower a darker orange
  • Mature seed pod splits longitudinally, explosively scattering many small seeds up to 6 ft. (Smither-Kopperl 2018)
    • Opening pod makes a popping sound, which may account for the common name
    • The explosive release of seeds from a pod is called ballochory
  • The genus Eschscholzia is highly variable, with over 90 taxa
    • California poppy is distinguished from other Eschscholzia by its torus (collar-like pedestal) at the flower base (receptacle), which persists through flowering and seed dispersal
    • E. californica is the only species found at Edgewood
  • Popular garden plant that has been distributed worldwide
    • Weedy and even invasive in some places, e.g. Australia and Chile
  • California state flower
    • In 1890, the California State Floral Society selected the California poppy as the state flower in a landslide victory over the mariposa lily (Calochortus species) and matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri); the state legislature made it official in 1903
    • April 6 is California Poppy Day and May 13 – 18 is California Poppy Week
  • John Muir wrote:
    • “When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden throughout its entire length, north and south, and all the way across from the snowy sierra to the ocean…..Descending the eastern slopes of the coast range, through beds of gilias and lupines, and around many a breezy hillock and bush-crowned headland, I at length waded out into the midst of the glorious field of gold. All the ground was covered, not with grass and green leaves, but with radiant corollas, about ankle-deep next the foothills, knee-deep or more five or six miles out….Sauntering in any direction, hundreds of these happy sun-plants brushed against my feet at every step, and closed over them as if I were wading in liquid gold.” (Muir 1989)
  • Why doesn’t Edgewood have more poppies? Naturalist Paul Heiple says poppies tolerate the poor, rocky soils of Edgewood’s serpentine grasslands, but thrive best in drier conditions than Edgewood offers

At Edgewood

  • Found in serpentine and non-serpentine grasslands, chaparral, and woodlands
  • Flowers April – June

See General References

Specific References

Beidleman, R. 2004, Jan. Lemmons and poppies. Jepson Globe 14: 1-2.

Bove, F. 2020, Jun. Eschscholzia californica. Featured Plant (June). San Francisco Botanical Gardens at Strybing Arboretum, San Francisco, California.

Hartwell, C. 2015, Feb. The first botanical illustration of the California poppy. The Desert Breeze Newsletter. Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society, Tucson, Arizona. Reprinted in Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program.

Muir, J. 1989. Muir Among the Animals: The Wildlife Writings of John Muir. L. Mighetto (Ed.). Random House, Inc. Reprint edition.

Natural History Museum (BM). 2013. Eschscholtz, Johann Friedrich Gustav von (1793-1831). Global Plants: Plant Collectors. JSTOR.

Nature Collective. 2020. California poppy.

Nelson, J.K. California poppy. Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture.

Smither-Kopperl, M.L. 2018. California poppy Eschscholzia californica Cham. Plant Guide. United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Plant Materials Center, Lockeford, California.

Thorp. R., P. Schroeder, and C. Ferguson. 2002. Bumble bees: Boisterous pollinators of native California flowers. Fremontia 30(3-4): 26-31.

van Doorn, W.G. and U. van Meeteren. 2003, Aug. 1.  Flower opening and closure: a review. Journal of Experimental Botany 54: 1801-1812. Oxford Academic.