Valley News -

By Roger Boddaert
Special to Valley News 

Matilija poppy is queen of California flowers


Last updated 6/1/2018 at 3:30pm

Roger Boddaert

A close-up shot of a matilija poppy shows the looks of a fried egg.

Matilija poppy has been called the "Queen of California flowers" in the words of Mary Parsons in her book "The Wildflowers of California," 1897.

It seems more appropriate for this beautiful California native in lieu of the "Fried Egg Plant," a name which I never thought this elegant and stately plant deserved.

Botanically speaking, it is a Romney coulteri, and Matilija is pronounced "ma-til-li-ha." It is one of most recognized of California flowering native plants.

With some basic understanding and horticultural care, the plant can really be marvelous in a landscape if you have space. It is a perennial native plant that might take a bit to get it growing, but once it becomes established it's a "no mess with plant."

The flowers are borne atop long slender blue-gray foliage and are really spectacular in spring to early summer, along with so many other California plants.

The plants can be found in habitats of sunny chaparral and coastal sage scrub in coastal and inland regions of Southern California and down into Baja California.

Although one of California's real unique natives its range is not wide in the wilds. Although it can be grown in many planting zones besides California; I have seen it growing in Oregon, Washington state and up in British Columbia. But it is the English gardener who found great joy and pride in growing the queen of flowers; maybe it has something to do with royalty.

The basic needs for this queen poppy are well-drained soils, like a sandy loam or decomposed granite. It enjoys a site with full hot sunshine and can be very drought tolerant once established.

Be very careful when removing the plant from the nursery container, for this plant has very sensitive roots, and if disturbed, it will fail quickly. Dig the planting hole large enough to fit the root ball of the plant and gently ease it into the hole. I do not suggest any type of amendments when planting this native.

The older clumps in my garden have been in the ground some 10 years now and are standing a good 8 feet in height adorned with flowers bending in the season's breeze and a faint aroma.

The two species of Romney coulteri and R. trichocalyx were crossed by Theodore Payne up in the San Fernando area many decades ago, and he developed a larger flower named "White Cloud" that is a real show stopper.

They can be propagated from cuttings, root divisions and seeds, but it takes a knack to master their reproduction via these techniques.

The California state poppy flower – Eschscholzia californica – is also in bloom at

this time of year and is a kissing cousin to the Matilija poppy.

I have seen some wonderful watercolor paintings of Matilija poppies over the years, and it's a neat form, shape and texture to capture on canvas.

"Flowers are one of nature's true gems to behold."

Roger Boddaert, garden consultant and maker of natural gardens, can be reached by phone at (760) 728-4297.


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