And now, my beauties, something with poison in it. Poppies…Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep. Now they’ll sleep!
-Wicked Witch of the West
Some years ago, my dear friend Lucie and I were walking through the San Diego Zoo. Over by the gargantuan bird section (I always want to set the birds of prey free!) we noticed these giant prehistoric looking flowers. They looked like poppies, they looked like fried eggs, and the blooms were bigger than our hands. We were very excited and vowed to find out what they were so one of us could grow them. As soon as we got back to my house, we told the family and looked them up: Matilija Poppies!
On the occasion of my very next birthday, Lori and Gina gifted me with a plant. (I am VERY LOVED!) I put it in a warm, dry place by the fence and hoped for the best, having heard they take a while to get established and can be picky. They bloomed a year later and have almost taken over their corner of the yard. They are about nine feet tall now and I’ll have to thin them out a bit this fall. They don’t seem to be any trouble at all as far as I’m concerned and every year we all look forward to the grand opening. Yesterday, I was on the phone with Lucie in the morning and I walked out to the garden and TADAAAAHH! they were open! How could the timing have been ANY better?!
Matilija or Romneya coulteri poppies are a perennial and are native to California, so they survive a little dry and hot quite well. They are described as a “glabrous shrub”. Glabrous means “having a surface devoid of hair or pubescence”. They were supposedly named after a Chief Matilija of the Chumash Tribe, who was a leader in the resistance against the Spanish invasion of what is now known as California. There is a legend that says the flowers originally sprang from a grave where the Chief’s daughter was buried with her lover, both killed by the Spaniards. Some of the details of the legend vary, as legends do, but it’s quite fun to have a plant in my garden with such rich local history. Lucie, I miss you and I never pass by this plant without remembering fondly our trips to the zoo with the kids. 🙂