Discover the Official State Flower of California (When It Blooms and Where to See It!)

Written by Kaleigh Moore
Published: March 12, 2023
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The official California state flower is the golden poppy, also known as California poppy, cup of gold, or California sunlight. Golden poppy is a well-placed flower that fits into California’s bitter-sweet “gold rush” history. In its full bloom on sprawling fields, it’s easy to reminisce about the discovery of gold that brought droves of prospectors. California officially adopted the bright orange flower as its state flower on March 1, 1903.

The golden poppy blooms in the spring and early summer along freeways, abandoned lots, country roads, and other places in almost the entire state. Eschscholzia californica is the Golden poppy’s scientific name; other names include the California poppy, cup of gold, or the California sunlight.

Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist, gave the California poppy its botanical name. He named it after a surgeon and entomologist: J.F Eschocholtz, who was also on board the same Russian ship, Rurick, exploring the North Americas.

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While this flower blossoms in the ‘wild,’ it can be easily sowed in your home garden. But the most magnificent views are the natural fields. As a state flower, the California poppy is planted for ornamental purposes. Besides the gold rush floral symbolism, the flower can represent success, peace, love, or good tidings.

Los Padres National Forest 

It blooms in the spring and early summer along freeways, abandoned lots, country roads, and other places in almost the entire state.

©iStock.com/GaryKavanagh

What are The Characteristics of the Golden Poppy?

The golden poppy is a perennial or annual(in colder climates) flower that blooms from spring to early summer. It’s a drought resistance flower, nevertheless beautiful from the bright orange-colored petals. Besides the orange-colored golden poppies, other poppy species are red and Yellow. Occasionally, you might find a white or pink variation.

California poppies fall under the papaveraceae family. In the sun’s full glare, the golden poppies display their breathtaking petals and fold during chilly mornings and evenings. A golden poppy is an expressive flower that attracts from long distances because of its brilliance.

A flower consisting of branching glaucous blue-green foliage. And the leaves form into round, lobed segments. Flowers stand on single stalks, which consist of 4 petals. Each petal is 2 to 6 cm long. 

Golden poppies produce a slender fruit that’s 3 to 9 cm long. When the fruit is about to release some 1.5-1.8 mm seeds, it bursts open, sometimes in an audible snap. A fully grown California poppy can rise to 2 feet but must be shorter depending on the native soil and availability of moisture. 

Temperatures between 50 and 75 degrees are within the range poppies can withstand, a reason they are suitable for California. You can still plant the flower in a moist environment around your garden.

Native Indians used the golden poppies for medicinal purposes. But the flower is toxic if ingested in its raw form. Whether in the “wild” or “in a home garden,” the California poppy easily reseeds itself, especially when there’s minimal competition from other flowers or plants.

Golden Poppy

Native Indians used the golden poppies for medicinal purposes. But the flower is toxic if ingested in its raw form.

©Sumikophoto/Shutterstock.com

Where Can You Find Golden Poppies in California?

Orange is the color of optimism and joy. Seeing this color in the golden poppy flowers, a natural element, will help lift spirits. The best poppy viewing would take you to an extensive field and witness the breathtaking appeal of these flowers.

You might expect to find the state’s California hills or seaside meadows. Still, they might grow in obscure or abandoned areas, such as small openings and street cracks. The best time to view golden poppies is between spring and early summer. 

While viewing, remember that the California poppies are protected from cutting or plucking under California law. The law only prohibits cutting golden poppy flowers growing in public areas. If you have grown some in your home, you can pluck them.

Golden Poppy

The golden poppy is worn over as a brooch as an official California flower during the memorial day celebration.

©Sodel Vladyslav/Shutterstock.com

Symbolism and Culture Significance Of the Golden Poppy

Majorly, the golden poppy floral representation is in line with California’s gold mining past, as we’ve seen previously discussed in this article. California’s nickname is “the golden state,” which is closely related to its gold mining history and “golden” poppies mountainside view from new visitors as they approach from the sea. 

The California poppy struts its orange cup-shaped colored petals that accentuate its beauty. Initially, the golden poppy was orange, but other color variations, including red and yellow poppies, were developed over time. The golden poppy is worn over as a brooch as an official California flower during the memorial day celebration. 

In other instances, it is used to garnish baked foods, while extracted poppy oil is used as medicine. The flower itself represents long health, rejuvenation, sacrifice, and remembrance. It is used for the memory of and sacrifice soldiers went through during the American civil war. Golden poppies are an excellent reminder of California’s culture and history.

Golden Poppy

The California poppy struts its orange cup-shaped colored petals that accentuate its beauty.

©Megs Lang/Shutterstock.com

The History Of The Golden Poppy in California 

In the 1800s, visitors to California were impressed by the golden poppies growing on the mountainside. They said their appeal in full bloom gave the mountain a golden appearance. Adelbert Von Chamisso was the first visitor to North America to name the golden poppies. 

But there’s a possibility native tribes have multiple names for the flowers. Earlier Spanish explorers called them “copal del ora,” meaning a cup of gold. It was believed that the brightly colored petals produced gold. Native Americans used the golden poppies to cure various illnesses such as headaches and toothache, as a sedative for children, sores, etc.

In literature, there is a reference to the Golden poppies in the book “the wizard of Oz,” where Dorothy and her friends fall asleep on a field of golden poppies. The reference in the book draws from the sedative usage by the native Americans. They used the golden poppies for their calming effects. As you’ll see later, modern physicians have also adopted this practice.

The California state floral society nominated three flowers to choose a state flower on December 12, 1890. They picked the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, Romneya coulteri, or giant poppy. The California legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of California poppies which were then made the official California state flower.

Since then, the flower has had much significance in California. State officials give it reverence, and Californians admire this glorious flower.

Golden Poppy Habitat

Even though the Golden poppy is the California state official flower, it is native to other regions in North America, including Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Sonora, Mexico, and Northwest Baja, California. California has a state-protected reserve that harbors the state flower. One famous reserve is the Antelope Valley California state reserve. 

The golden poppy flowers on these reserves are left to thrive naturally, meaning the state does not interfere by stimulating or watering the plants. During the golden poppy blooming period, a reserve offers a space for visitors to view, observe, and scientists study the flowers’ progress.

In total, the Antelope Valley covers an area of 1545 acres. Other popular locations for golden poppy include Point Buchon (San Luis Obispo county) and Bear alley (Colusa county)

Below is a list of other places you can view golden poppies:

  • Anza-Borrego State Park
  • Carrion Plain National Monument 
  • Malibu Creek State Park
  • Walker Canyon
  • Chino Hills State Park
  • Hite Cove
  • Mount Diablo State Park
  • Figueroa Mountain
  • Gorman Hills Flower Fields
  • North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve
  • Point Buchon

If you plan on visiting these areas, remember that the state of California will fine you $1000 for picking any flowers in public places (not just the golden poppies). Golden poppies don’t make lovely bouquets because the petals fall off immediately when you choose one.

Wildflower season is relatively short for the Golden poppies, usually lasting 2 to 4 weeks. If the weather (enough rainfall and the proper sunlight) is excellent, California experiences a “super bloom). The super bloom phenomenon is when there are optimum weather conditions where millions of poppies pop out seemingly out of nowhere. That’s a refreshing sight to behold. These phenomena attract hundreds of visitors to the fields every day.

Rock Pool at Malibu Creek State Park Near Los Angeles - Swimming Holes Near Los Angeles

Malibu Creek State Park is one of the many places you can find golden poppies during their season.

©trekandshoot/Shutterstock.com

Protecting California Golden Poppies

When the golden poppies were elevated to state flower hood, their status changed, and protection was imminent. California emphasizes the protection of all flowers in the state, but poppies protection and conservation are on another level. 

Students learn about the significance of the Golden poppies, and Californians celebrate its state flower. With so much attention, the flower deserves proper protection.

Laws Protecting Golden Poppies (all flowers)

The California penal code section 384a requires a person to get written permission to remove or sell plants from land they do not own. Therefore, when a person is found damaging or removing plants from an area they do not hold without written permission, it constitutes trespassing or petty theft. 

As stated earlier, these laws only apply to public lands. If you wish to pluck plants, or Golden poppies for that matter, on your ground, you have every right to do so! These California laws extend to other states, such as Oregon.

Golden Poppy

When the golden poppies were elevated to state flower hood, their status changed, and protection was imminent.

©ChWeiss/Shutterstock.com

Best Practices for Golden Poppies Viewing and Enjoyment

What are some of the items you should carry along when visiting golden poppy fields? Let’s start with the basics:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bugs spray
  • Hiking shoes
  • A lot of water 
  • Camera or smartphone 
  • Tripod or selfie stick
  • Sun hat 
  • Snacks

You’ll find that the best time to view golden poppies is between mid-morning and just before the winds blow away the blooms. However, you can view the poppies during sunset if you miss sunny moments. If you’re lucky, you could get one of the best shots for memories sake.

Since the hill/mountainside harbors the best viewing experiences, consider this a hiking trip. If you carry the right, snacks and water, it will be a more pleasant viewing experience. Also, ensure you refine your shooting skills. This will help you play around with the clear blue sky or sunset to get the best photos in the poppy fields. 

When taking photos, go down low to get the most exquisite shots for your tour. When viewing the poppy fields, stick to the trail. Golden poppies are pretty delicate and quickly fumble from trampling. In 2019, a super bloom brought much social media attention, and visitors flocked to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve and Walker Canyon and fields to have fun.

In the past, Death Valley has hosted some awe-inspiring super Blooms. During the last super bloom in Death Valley, it was a sight to behold purple, gold, and white blanketing the region. If you’re lucky to visit the fields during a super bloom, go for it!

Golden Poppy

You’ll find that the best time to view golden poppies is between mid-morning and just before the winds blow away the blooms.

©Simone Hogan/Shutterstock.com

Cultural Significance of Golden Poppies

Californians celebrate the poppy day on April 6, while poppy week is held from the 13th to 18th of May every year. Golden poppies have cultural significance that’s older than California state. Greeks drew its sap for the same reason Native Indians did; sedative or calming properties. 

The flower was linked to Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep, in ancient Greece. Asians see the golden poppies as symbols of passionate love. 

In California, the golden poppies symbolize peace of sleep. When used on tombstones, they signify eternal death. California state displays the golden poppies on welcome signs and significant scenic routes. Sarah Plummer Lemmon drafted a bill passed by the California legislature in 1903 to make the golden poppy the official state flower. 

After the American civil war, poppies found a new significance after women started decorating the graves of fallen soldiers(husbands) with them. When memorial day became official, poppies were incorporated as a sign to the union soldiers who died during the tumulus period. The poppies gained more significance in 1915 in American and European militaries after LT Colonel John Mccrae wrote the poem, “In Flanders field.”

He was a physician and found inspiration for the poem from walking around and seeing crosses of fallen soldiers. Despite these crosses’ pain, poppies grew with so much resilience it was poetic. Americans celebrate memorial day by wearing poppies. 

Is California poppy used for medicinal purposes in modern times? Yes, Eschscholzia californica is used as a supplement. Just like the Native Indians used it for its soothing effect, modern physicians use it for its calming effect. Some of the elements that contain golden poppy extracts include tinctures and capsules.

As advocated by proponents of the extracts, health benefits enhance relaxation and sleep and reduce mild pain. The poppy extract is mixed with other supplements, including herbs such as Valerian, for enhanced effect.

Golden Poppy

In California, the golden poppies symbolize peace of sleep.

©Frank Cornelissen/Shutterstock.com

Why Do The Golden Poppy Flower Pops In California?

Undoubtedly, the golden poppy is the number one flower in California. It’s such an essential aspect of the state that it’s included in their welcome signs or scenic road signage. In the greater United States, the poppy has significance, especially on memorial day, concerning people who died during the American Civil war, World War II, and II. 

Memorial day is celebrated by wearing poppies. Additionally, family members place golden poppies on graves as a sign of eternal death. Additionally, California poppies, like other wildflowers and plants, are protected under California law. Creating reserves for poppies means this flower species has a home to thrive in.

The golden poppies of California are an iconic and resilient symbol of nature with a long-standing cultural significance. From the sap used by Native Indians for its soothing properties to their role in welcoming visitors or commemorating fallen soldiers, these flowers have deeply rooted in Californian history.

But what does the future hold for these beautiful poppies? We must remember their importance and preserve them for all they stand for as a reminder of our duty to protect nature. Let us cherish these golden poppies now and in the future.

Golden Poppy

It’s such an essential aspect of the state that it’s included in their welcome signs or scenic road signage.

©Omar Velazquez/Shutterstock.com

The photo featured at the top of this post is © alybaba/Shutterstock.com


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