Matilija Poppy

Plant of the Month

Cliff Hutson
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter

Matilija poppy, Romneya coulteri, is a perennial herb that is not only native to California but is endemic (limited) to California alone. It also has the distinction of having the largest flower of any plant native to the state. The flowers, up to seven inches in diameter, are said to resemble a fried egg as they are yellow in the center and surrounded by five or six white, crinkled petals. Its tall stems, with grayish-green leaves, may reach between three and eight feet in height.

This rampantly showy species of the Papaveraceae family is found in the chaparral and coastal sage scrub habits. It should be blooming from May through June in the Peninsular Ranges and the eastern parts of the South Coast Ranges at elevations of 20 to 1,200 meters. Some blossoms may last well into late summer. Threatened by both development (urbanization, flood control, road widening and road maintenance) and invasive species, it is included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 4.2 (limited distribution). Look for it at RSABG at the back of Fay’s Wildflower Meadow and on the path up to Indian Hill Mesa.

Matilija poppy is very popular in native plant gardens. Care must be taken in its placement as it is rhizomatous and very aggressive in spreading itself through underground rootstocks which form additional colonies. It needs sun and tolerates various amounts of watering depending on how well the soil drains.

The scientific name commemorates Romney Robinson, an Irish astronomer of the 1800s, and Thomas Coulter, an Irish physician, botanist, and explorer. The plant itself was almost honored. It was a nominee in 1890 for the title of state flower but lost to the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) by an apparently considerable margin. However, I would like to demand a recount.