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Plant Highlight: Romneya coulteri

June 2007

Members of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) are found around the world, including some native to California.  One of these, Eschscholzia californica, is a familiar annual which has been designated as the State Flower.  Another spectacular native poppy is a much larger-growing perennial named Romneya coulteri, commonly called the Matilija Poppy.  It has large flowers with crinkled white petals and a ball of yellow stamens at the center, and these flowers call to mind an egg cooked sunny side up.  For this reason, the name “fried-egg bush” is sometimes encountered for this species.

Romneya coulteri is one of the giants of the family, typically growing to 5 – 8 feet tall and spreading vigorously by suckers from the base.  The leaves are bluish-green, dissected and rather jaggedy-edged.  The bush dies back in the fall, and we prune it back to the base each year.  With the arrival of warm weather in spring, new shoots grow up rapidly, and flowering commences in May and continues into the summer.

Because of its tendency to spread aggressively, care must be taken in choosing a site for a Matilija Poppy.  It should be allotted plenty of room, and should not be put next to small plants which might get smothered by its enthusiastic growth.  However, plants need very little water, although a little supplemental watering can extend the flowering season.  They can be propagated by digging rooted suckers, though these can be difficult to establish.  Once off and running, they are not fussy, and they are not particular about soil type.