California Poppies and Clarkia (Farewell to Spring)

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

Family:  Poppy (Papaveraceae)

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 generally, though I've seen it blooming as late as September near the Wawona Hotel

Lifespan:  Annual or Perennial

Origins:  Native to California (see distribution maps for California and U.S./Canada)

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

This Photo:  Near Highway 49 between Ahwahnee and Oakhurst, early June; elevation 2,300 feet (700 meters). The pink flowers in the background are Farewell to Spring.

Other Resources:   CalFlora  ·  CalPhotos  ·  USDA  ·  ·  S.F. Botanical Garden

More Poppy Pictures