California Poppy grows in grassy meadows and hillsides throughout California, where it's the state flower. In the Yosemite area, though, Tufted Poppy is more common; if you drive into Yosemite in the spring along Highway 140 and see the Merced River Canyon spotted orange with poppies, chances are it's Tufted Poppies you're seeing. California and Tufted Poppies are quite similar looking, but California Poppy flowers each have a small horizontal disc at the base of the flower (they're visible in this photo) that Tufted Poppies lack. Most years you can find California Poppies along the Wawona Meadow trail.
Size: typically around a foot tall, with blooms a couple inches across
Flowering Season: March to June
The Dark Side: California Poppies are notorious prima donnas, refusing to open their flowers unless the sun is out. They do this to torment photographers trying to capture them in the soft light of an overcast day or a sunset.
Eschscholzia californica etymology: Eschscholzia is named for German physician and naturalist Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz (1793 - 1831), who discovered the poppy genus in the San Francisco area in 1816. Californica, as you have probably already surmised, is a reference to the state; California itself is named for a mythical island, populated entirely by beautiful pagan Amazon warriors, from a 16th-century Spanish novel. The aforesaid warriors commanded trained griffins, used weapons of gold (the only metal found on the island), and sailed off with their queen Calafia to battle Christians in Constantinople. Calafia, and probably California as well, were likely derived from caliph, though the author is no longer available to confirm this. 1 2 3 4