Thursday, September 8, 2016

Plant profile: Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy)


Latin name: Romneya coulteri (pronounced "ROM-nee-ah KOOL-ter-eye)
Common name: Matilija poppy, Fried egg plant.
Originally from: Southern California and Northern Mexico
Blooms: Big old crinkly white flowers with a huge yellow center, all summer.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant and very tough
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 8' x 8'
USDA Zones: 5-9
Where to find in P. Garden: In the left bed along the bottom path.

What! It's a giant poppy? Stand back people. It's THE giant poppy. Named for the acclaimed Irish astronomer and physicist Rev. John Thomas Romney Robinson, this mega-poppy behaves the way the young Robinson looks in his portrait shown here. That is, tough, determined, handsome and zealous.

In fact, while Robinson went on to do great things in his career, like cataloging 5,345 stars, the Matilija poppy is similarly ambitious, if not actually invasive and slightly annoying at times. But when it flowers, all is forgiven: those bloody great big fried egg-looking flowers are so cheerful it's hard to hate the plant.

The largest flowers of the poppy family, they prefer a warm, sunny spot and fertile soil with good drainage. Wikipedia says that they are "not easily grown but once established are difficult to remove" and I would agree with the latter part of that sentence. We didn't have any trouble starting them though, and they survive with utter neglect and no water at PG, and I hack them down to stumps in the fall which barely puts a dent in them.

In the wild, they are known as "fire followers" as they can often be found in burned areas. In the garden, they are known as utter b@stards and you cannot kill them.

The common name "Matilija poppy" comes from a location they're found. Matilija was one of the Native American Chumash rancherias, which became the Matilija Wilderness, a space of 29,600 acres established 1992 by the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act, 12 miles from the town of Ojai, in Ventura County near Los Angeles.

Although the original meaning of the word "matilija" is lost,  the name originates with the Chumash Indian Chief Matilija and his tribe, who lived in the hills and valleys of Ventura county during the early 1800s. Various legends can be read about here, and below.

Numerous legends from Old California tell of the story of his daughter Amatil and her lost love. In most versions, Amatil falls in love with a young brave, is kidnapped by Spaniards to work at Mission Buenaventura, longs to return to her tribal home, Ojai (the Nest), and finally flees the mission only to find her lover mortally wounded after a fierce battle with the Spaniards. The lovely Matilija flower is said to symbolize the tears of Amatil and her heart of gold.
Not sure such a romantic story is apt for such a brash plant, but OK. Plant them in a large area at your own risk. You probably won't regret it. Much.

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