MATILIJA POPPY, COULTER'S MATILIJA POPPY, TREE POPPY
Pronounced: ROM-nee-a KOLE-ter-eye
Southern California, Northern Mexico.
Plant group: Perennials.
Hardiness: Sunset zones: 4-12, 14-24. USDA zones: 7-8. Heat zones: 9-2.
Mature size: Height: 3-8 feet (1-2.5m). Width: Indefinite.
Flowering period: July — Fall (with watering).
Flowering attributes: Five-inch, cup-shaped, white flowers and yellow-orange stamens with a citrus scent.
Leaf attributes: Pinnatifid, gray-green leaves.
Growth habit: Suckering perennial.
Light: Full sun.
Soil: Fertile, well-drained soil.
Feeding: Side dress with compost or manures. Add a complete organic fertilizer in spring to the surrounding soil. Give it a dry mulch over winter.
Propagation methods: Very difficult to propagate by seed.
Pruning methods: In the PNW this subshrub dies back to the ground, so prune nearly to the ground in late fall.
Pests and diseases: Verticillium wilt.
Rainy Side Notes
"…the fairest plant that ever came to our land from that country of flowers, California."
--William Robinson in English Flower Garden
Romneya coulteri is endemic to California and Baja California in Mexico, where it grows amongst the chaparral; serves its flowers sunny-side-up with a slight citrus scent when in full bloom. This handsome plant is one of the tallest members of the poppy family as well as having the largest flower in the genus.
In 1832, Thomas Coulter collected this species, presumably in the San Luis Rey River valley. Later In 1845, William Harvey, who introduced many of Coulter's collected plants collected to botanists in Europe and America, wanted to name the genus after him. However, another plant already bore his name, so he gave the genus name, Romneya, in honor of Coulter's friend, Reverend T. Romney Robinson, an astronomer, and the species name, coulteri, to honor Coulter. The common name, Matilija poppy (pronounced ma-TIL-i-ha or ma-til-EE-ha) is named after Chief Matilija of the Chumash Tribe.
In the stalk, there is a clear to yellowish liquid substance that the Cahuilla used to drink. The plant is used medicinally for skin and gum problems and stomach upset. The Chumash people believed the petals of the flower were made from the soul of a maiden, who died of a broken heart. Their Chumash gods transformed her into the pure white petal.
After a fire, these plants colonize the disturbed land. Unfortunately, the species is slowly declining in areas of California where development is taking place.
I grow mine in the drought garden where it behaves itself. It grows quite well with little or no extra watering during the dry season. The roots of Romneya resent transplanting, so plant it with care, while still small. A little water now and then will help it bloom more; however, if you give it too much water and fertile ground, it may spread indefinitely.
Photographed in author's garden.