• A California native, served sunny side up

    by  • April 18, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Spring • 5 Comments

    It’s California Native Plant Week and I’m profiling a different California native each day that is on my particular wish list.

    The first is Coulter’s Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri.

    The flowers of the tall and dramatic Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri, look eggish, growing atop an 8-12 foot plant.  A perennial, this grey-green leafed California native, prefers dry, disturbed soil near road cuts and along rocky streams. 

    Matilija poppy, 7 inches wide

    Matilija poppy, 7 inches wide, Shelter Cove, California

    In my area, it’s found beside the Merced River along Hwy 140 going into Yosemite, but I’ve seen it in Monterey, CA in the median strips and planting areas along the roadsides and as far north as Shelter Cove, CA.  In my neighbor’s garden,  it grows rampantly with sprinklers going summer long and suckers madly, multiplying in all corners of the place.

    Matilija poppy stands 8 feet tall or more

    Matilija poppy stands 8 feet tall or more

    This photo was taken in Shelter Cove, CA where the Matilija (Ma-TILL-a-ha) grows wildly beside a gas station parking lot. Named for the Matilija River in Ventura County, CA, it was discovered in the 1860’s by Irish botanist, Thomas Coulter, who named it after his friend, John Thomas Romney Robinson, an astronomer. Coulter, collected and studied plants in Californa and Mexico.

    My tiny Matilija, only 4 inches tall has sat, shrinking, for four years

    March 2011 My tiny Matilija, only 4 inches tall has sat, shrinking seemingly, for three years

    This small sprout, acquired from the neighbor, is the third transplant I’ve tried. The first two died immediately and this one, although sulky, seems to be living a longer life, still not sure it likes its spot. This is a dry bank which used to be the driveway and I have the log there so our friends don’t drive over it when here camping on the command post hill.

    April 2011  Some signs of growth...fingers crossed

    April 2011 Some signs of growth...fingers crossed

    It’s supposed to like fertile or sandy soil, with no water needed in summer.  That’s the trick though because before it’s ‘established’ it may need water here where the summers are hot, hot, hot. I’m hoping that it will establish itself here and eventually be happy here on the mountain.

    At Las Pilitas Nursery in California, in their usual quirky way, they describe the Matilija culture this way:

    “Water well when planted, then once per week or so though first summer. They should kick by the next spring, when they do, stop watering. Kick?=grow to six feet or so, start spreading and flower. No amending, no fertilizer tabs, doesn’t even care about mulch. Of course in cool climates you can get away with all sorts of things…. “You may be interested to know that I bought one of these plants locally some years ago and despite the fact that my area,(Cheshire, England) could not be more different from California, it appears to be thriving. We have lots of wet weather, cold winds and overcast skies and the area is noted for its rich agricultural land, its roses and its turf!” Matilija poppies commonly go deciduous in summer or fall and come back in spring. If you buy one in it’s deciduous stage, it will look dead to an average gardener in Seattle. Nope, it’s just deadest stickus, normal mode for fall.”


    Like I said, “Fingers crossed.” 


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    5 Responses to A California native, served sunny side up

    1. April 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      A plant a day sounds like an ambitious project! And an ambitious plant to start with, I wouldn’t dream of planting this in my suburban garden, but I’ve seen it do well and spread in a local park. And if it can do well here, I’m sure it will thrive where you are. Good luck!

    2. April 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      That’s often the trick. I’m striving to achieve that balance of just the right amount of water to get some of the natives started, but not overdo it. Seems to be a fine line with some of them. My neighbor has one of these ‘fried egg’ plants, and it’s running completely amok! Hers is on a drip system, and fortunately has room to roam. The one I planted died, and honestly, considering where I’d put it, I’m somewhat relieved! It would not have had the room it needed 😉 It’s is pretty though, and blooms quite late in the season. Good luck, I hope this sprout sticks!

    3. April 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      You gotta love this plant. It’s high on my list of favorites that like Town Mouse I don’t dare plant for fear of it getting out of control. But I know you have a little more space for an enthusiastic plant, so let me wish you lots of success with your third try!

    4. April 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      Mouse, I have far to go before this one gets out of hand, but it would surely be a holiday if I were to get a bloom from it.
      Hi Clare, I have discovered that when handwatering existing natives while getting my other planted areas done, (thinking they’d appreciate a bit of water) it can actually mean their demise. Often we can’t improve on what Nature already plans. A good lesson for me.

      Hi James, Matilija grows all along the Merced river and I’ve wanted to get out and just touch those huge flowers longingly. They also have one at my local native nursery…it gets no water added and has sat prettily for five years without throwing off many babies. Water may be the key to all this.

    5. April 22, 2011 at 8:35 am

      I’m crossing fingers & holding thumbs for you to have success. I’m sure you will with your neighbour’s plants doing so well! 8ft tall! That’s quite some plant…and truly beautiful, too! I love your ‘sunny side up’ analogy…it really is an apt description 🙂

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