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Plant Profile: California Poppy

Every spring, California blooms with colorful native flowers painting the hillsides in yellows, purples and oranges. One notable flower that stands out among the stunning blooms is the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). This highly recognizable symbol of California was even voted as the official state flower in 1903 because its bright orange and yellow blooms were seen as a perfect symbol for the Golden State. Additionally, the beloved flower even has an officially designated day in the state with April 6 each year being recognized as “California Poppy Day.”

The California poppy is native to California, extending to southern Washington, Mexico and northwest Baja California. The common annual and perennial species is known for its bright orange, sometimes yellow, silky petals and blue-green foliage that bloom in the spring through the late summer months. The cup-shaped flower has a unique feature, following a circadian rhythm in response to darkness. The plant basically “sleeps” or closes up when the sun goes down and during cloudy weather. This natural phenomenon is not seen in many plant species, and it is still undetermined why it happens. 

The California poppy draws crowds of thousands to Southern California every year, especially during rare super blooms. While taking a look at these beautiful flowers, it’s crucial to stay on designated trails and refrain from picking the flowers. Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) encourages responsible viewing practices to preserve these delicate blooms and their habitats for future generations to enjoy.

Beyond just being pretty to look at, California poppies also play a crucial role in our native habitats. The flower is a vital food source for a variety of creatures, including birds, small herbivores, butterflies, bees and other important pollinators. This, in turn, supports the rich biodiversity that thrives within our ecosystems.