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What is a California Poppy?

Learn more about the California poppy including its characteristics, growing conditions, and some of its varieties. We've included some tips on how to grow these gorgeous orange blossoms.

Incredible field of bright orange California poppies growing on a sunny day

Eschscholzia Californica

Most people will know of the California poppy because it is the state flower of California, though others may know it by the name of the golden poppy, the cup of gold flower, or the California sunlight flower. Walk by a meadow of these and try not to be enchanted. I dare you.

This species of flowering plant is a proud member of the Papaveraceae family – or the poppy family – that holds 775 different species! Flowers from this botanical family are known all over the world for being exceptionally beautiful, wonderfully easy to care for, and shockingly resilient.

The California poppy is native to certain parts of the United States and Mexico where they grow naturally and in abundance. They are such prosperous flowers that they have been naturalized all over the planet and are used mainly as ornamental plants.

In our Awesome List of Flowering Plants from all over the world, we go over tons of different green friends that you could incorporate into your garden. If you’re not feeling ecstatic about eschscholzia California, head on over there and you’re sure to find the perfect match for your beloved green space.

Looking down the flowerheads of bright orange California poppies growing in a bundle

Related: Orange Flowers | Types of Flowers by Color | Types of Flowers by Alphabet | Types of Flowers | Types of Poppy Flowers

What do California Poppies Look Like?

Flowers

The California poppy is a stunning flower. Flowers are borne with 4 petals that are a relatively rounded triangular shape, and are about as long as they are wide. They are a very silky texture and overlap one another to create a beautiful bowl shape.

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California poppy flowers are usually orange, though there are some that are shades of orange, red, and sometimes even pink. The petals close up at night time or when it is cold or windy. The fruit that a California poppy produces is a slender seed pod that eventually splits in 2 to release several black seeds.

Flowering usually occurs between the months of February and September in the northern hemisphere, making for a very long and delectable blooming season. Be warned, however; the instant you pick a California poppy, its petals will often fall away before you can tuck it behind your lovers’ ear.

Close up focus of orange California poppy petals with blurry flowers in the background

Leaves

California poppy leaves are alternately divided into rounded, lobed segments that are slightly similar to ferns. A leaf is a glaucous blue green color.

Growth Pattern

California poppies can grow to be anywhere from 5 to 60 inches in height. Their growth pattern is identified by alternately branching foliage. A solitary flower emerges at the tip of a long stem.

What are Some California Poppy Varieties?

California Golden – The California golden variety is the best known California poppy. It has the classic and striking bright orange coloring.

California golden poppies growing in a stand with beautiful silky orange petals

Mission Bells – The Mission Bells California poppy is one of the more rare varieties. They have a mixture of sherbet hues, ranging from salmon, to cream, to light pink. Some flowers are even borne with double blooms!

Mission bells California poppies with light pink petals growing around un blossomed buds

Golden West – The Golden West California poppy is very similar to the standard California Golden, though the centre of the flower is a darker orange color – making for a striking contrast.

Looking down at blooming golden west California poppy flowers with large silky orange petals

How do you Grow a California Poppy?

If you’re convinced so far that the California poppy is a plant you would like to grace your property, here are some tips on growing these gorgeous orange blossoms! Lucky for you, these are some of the easiest flowers to keep happy.

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1. Wait until the very last threat of frost has passed, as the cold temperatures tend to be detrimental to California poppy seedlings – early spring or early summer are safe times.

2. Sow seed exactly where you’d like for them to live in your garden. This should be in an area that receives full sun exposure, and in soil that is well drained.

3. Soil quality is not important. Based on their natural growing range, they tend to thrive in poor soils.

4. Press the seeds into the soil at least 8 inches apart.

5. Be gentle when watering the seeds so as to not dislodge them. Water to keep the soil moist while they are in their germination period.

6. They will grow prosperously if the temperature is between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is too cold they may go dormant.

7. The germination should only take about 2 weeks. Once the seedlings are established, let nature take its course. They do not need to be watered unless it hasn’t rained in a long time.

Looking up at flower heads through the stems of California poppy flowers at a bright blue sky

Where does the California Poppy Grow?

The California poppy is a native plant to the United States and certain parts of Mexico. They grow naturally in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Baja.

Since they are such prosperous growers, they have also become naturalized in many other areas. Australia has a very similar climate to their natural growing range, and have since become naturalized in Australia, where they were then introduced to Argentina, Chile, and South Africa as well.

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They grow in abundance in areas that receive a ton of sunlight, and not very much annual precipitation. This time of climate is very similar to Mediterranean climates. California poppies grow in USDA zones 6 through 10.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is where the most California poppies can be found, where during their blooming season, their orange blossoms span a baffling 1745 acres! Some other prominent California poppy fields are in Bear Valley Colusa County, and Point Buchon Sand Luis Obispo County.

Field of California poppy flowers growing at the top of a cliff looking down at California seaside

What are the Growing Conditions of California Poppies?

Soil Type

California poppies tend to grow best in poor soil that is not very rich in nutrients. They can tolerate many different soil types, including sandy, rocky, or loamy soil, though they do not grow well in clay based soils.

The soil can be either acidic or neutral, though it must be very well drained. Soil can dry out completely, as this is a very drought tolerant plant.

Water Level

As just mentioned, the California poppy is a remarkably drought tolerant plant. They prefer to be neglected when it comes to watering, and they will survive just fine with natural precipitation.

Sun Exposure

California poppies prefer to exist in full sun conditions, as this replicates their natural growing range, and ensures that they will experience a successful blooming season.

Beautiful orange California poppies growing on a grassy hillside

Temperature

Though they will survive extreme heat, California poppies actually go dormant when temperatures become too hot. As soon as the temperatures cools down, they will come out of dormancy. They tend to grow best in temperatures occurring between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Fertilizer

When it comes to fertilizer, it is completely unnecessary for a California poppy to thrive. Since their natural growing range often consists of very poor and nutrient low soil, fertilizer is not needed.

Pruning

The only pruning that needs to happen to California poppies is deadheading. This simply means popping off their flower heads once they have bloomed for a while. Sometimes this can lead to a second bloom to emerge!

Keep in mind, if you’d like your poppies to go to seed, leave some flower heads so that they will have an opportunity to drop their California poppy seeds.

Intolerances

All in all, California poppies are extremely easy to care for, and they almost thrive off of complete neglect. Just remember that they do not need to be watered very much, if at all.

Beautiful California ravine at sunrise with unopened California poppy flowers warming up to the sun

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