California poppies in Sonoma, California
California poppies in Sonoma, California


Visit California or Oregon, specifically the Western regions of the states, and you may notice a gorgeous roadside attraction: the California poppy.

In fact, it is the state flower of California.

Prior to Europeans arriving on Californian and Oregonian shores, Native peoples were quite familiar the wildflower. According to the Flower Essence Society, indigenous peoples used the California poppy to heal toothaches, serve as a sleep aid, and calm headaches and stomach aches.  Ms. Homegrown shares that the poppy was also used by Chumash women to stop the production of breast milk and the flowers were used to help kill lice. Today, it used as a natural remedy for sleep disorders and anxiety.

The greens of the poppy can be boiled and served as a bitter green side dish and the flowers are edible, providing a colorful touch to a salad. Additionally, one can make a flavorful tea to help serve as sleep aid.

The original illustration for the California poppy drawn by Adelbert von Chamisso. He collected this specimen in San Francisco in 1816.
Russian naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso takes credit for “discovering,” the California poppy. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the flower was named after J. F. Eschscholtz, who was a surgeon and entomologist on the Rurick, the ship that von Chamisso was traveling on when he discovered the California poppy. Therefore, the flower was named Eschscholzia californica. And yes, von Chamisso forgot the t in Eschscholtz’s name.

Eventually, the flower made its way to Europe, and gained popularity in English gardens. Travelers can discover the California poppy across the United States, but it thrives on the mountainsides and empty parking lots of western California and Oregon.

Right now, in California, it is poppy prime time – California poppies dot the landscapes as we enter into the warmer late spring and summer months.

California poppies in bloom in Spring 2016 at thehistoric Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California
California poppies in bloom in Spring 2016 at the historic Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

The California poppy became the state flower in 1903.

Is it illegal to cut down or mow California poppies? Many tourists and Californians think so – even I was always told it was illegal!

According to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy “poppy picking is purely poppycock,” and poppies are free for the picking, even though they advise to only pick flowers on your own property or where you have permission to do so.

However, the delicate flowers rarely survive a cut or a picking to be added to bouquets, making it a true wild flower.

A yellow-orange California poppy in Sonoma, California
A yellow-orange California poppy in Sonoma, California

The flowers come in many colors – not just the signature pumpkin-orange. One can find yellow, purple, red, and even white California poppies. Earlier this year, during the rainy winter months, I distributed wild flower seeds in my backyard and slowly and surely, California poppies are popping up left and right. Their little greens look similar to carrots greens.

One of my favorite ways to distribute these beauties is with seed bombs. Toss them out of your car window or throw them over a fence and into an ugly abandoned lot in your neighborhood and eventually beautiful poppies will emerge. You can grow California poppies in most US states, so give it a try – it can’t hurt to bring a little bit of California sunshine to your own backyard!

Where are your favorite places to view California poppies?