Native Garden

Ernest Righetti High School


Matilija Poppy - Romneya coulteri

Category: Perennial
Family: Papaveraceae (Poppies)
Origin: California (USA)
Bloomtime: Spring/Summer

Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) - Spreading from underground runners, this beautiful California native grows 4-6 feet tall and spreads to 8 feet or more with glaucus gray foliage pinnately divided into 3-5 lobes. The large (seven inches across) flowers have white crinkled petals with a yellow center and are delicately fragrant with a peak bloom period is during the spring and summer. Plant in sun or partial sun in a well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant and hardy to near 0°F. Initially difficult to establish but once happy it will run underground to form dense stands whose bare stems are best cut back to 3 to 4 inches above the ground in late fall to early winter. Ironically people either complain that it is too difficult to get established initially or too difficult to eradicate once it has. Use care with the delicate roots when planting and consider a root barrier if containment is wanted. It can be grown for a few years and even flower in a container but is certainly a more dramatic plant when grown out in the open such as can be seen in the large patch along the road coming up to our nursery. The flowers are attractive to bees, birds and butterflies and the tall stems can be cut and used in flowers arrangements but the flowers are relatively short lived in the vase - best cut in the bud stage and allowed to open but don't expect more than a couple days before yellow pollen and petals begin to drop. Some say that searing the cut stem with a flame can prolong the vase life. Matilija Poppy is native to Southern California from Santa Barbara County south into Baja California where it grows in dry canyons within the chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities below 4,000 feet. The genus was named in 1845 by the Irish botanist William Henry Harvey for the Irish astronomer Thomas Romney Robinson, a friend of Thomas Coulter, who first discovered the plant. Coulter was an Irish physician and botanist who explored Mexico, Arizona and California in the early 19th century and the specific epithet honors him. Other common names include Romneya, Coulter's Matilija Poppy, Californian Tree Poppy and Fried Egg Flower. The common name Matilija Poppy comes from an area in Ventura County, Matilija Canyon, where this plant is abundant that was named for Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indian Tribe. The Chumash Indians used the sap of this plant to make a drink and for medicinal purposes. Romneya coulteri has the largest flowers of any plant native to California and was nominated as the State Flower in 1890, but lost to another member of its own family, the California Poppy (
Eschscholzia californica>/i>).  This description is based on our research and observations made of this plant as it grows in our nursery, in the nursery garden and in other gardens that we have visited. We will also incorporate comments received from others and always appreciate getting feedback of any kind from those who have some additional information about this plant, in particular if this information is contrary to what we have written or if they have additional cultural tips that would aid others in growing Romneya coulteri.

source: San Marcos GROWERS

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