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Plants from the Ground Up

Romneya coulteri – The Matilija Poppy

The Matilija poppy is my absolute favorite summer flower, one I anticipate all year long. I love the way the silvery new shoots with their ruffled tips first start emerging from the roots in spring.  Each slender gray stalk rises up and sends out its unusual gray-green leaves with their lance-shaped lobes. Atop those stalks sit the glory of Romneya coulteri, their exquisite white blooms. Each large (up to 6 inch) flower is made up of six petals that look like crinkled white silk surrounding a brilliant center of golden-yellow stamens. The flowers have a deliciously sweet lemon scent that to me smells just like Portuguese sweet bread. The scent is also irresistible to pollinators who swarm them. Fuzzy brown seed capsules follow containing many tiny seeds.

Romneya coulteri MATILIJA POPPY

Romneya coulteri
MATILIJA POPPY

The Matilja poppy is native to the chaparral and coastal scrub of southern California and Baja Mexico. Romneya coulteri is a large perennial growing up to 8 feet high each season. You can cut the stalks down to 6 inches in the winter, but it is a cosmetic fix and not necessary, so it’s up to you. The funny thing with Romneya is that people will either say they cannot get it started or that they cannot control it! The trick to getting Romneya started is to give it consistent water with good drainage, slopes are ideal. I have mine on drip in a rock wall and it loves it. In warm sandy or gravely soils Romneya can spread aggressively with shoots coming up many feet away from the mother plant. Pulling the shoots is quite effective and the plant is still well worth growing.

Matilija poppy makes a marvelous statement plant in the garden. Give it room to grow and you will be rewarded with its interesting form and spectacular blooms.

      

      

Romneya coulteri is in the Papaveraceae or Poppy family. Also known as the tree poppy or fried egg poppy. It gets its Latin names from Thomas Romney an Irish astronomer and his friend Thomas Coulter an Irish physician and botanist who discovered it in 1832. The name Matilija comes from Chief Matilija of the Chumash tribe who lived in southern California long before the arrival of Spanish missionaries. Matilija poppy was nominated as the state flower of California in 1890, however it was the lovely California Poppy that won that honor.

Romney grows best in full sun with sandy soils or at least soil with very good drainage. They typically bloom from June to August, sometimes the bloom season can be extended with judicious irrigation. Romneya coulteri is propagated by root cuttings in winter or seed sown in spring. They are best planted in the fall and are winter hardy to USDA zone 7.

For more photos and information, see Romneya coulteri at the Forestfarm Store.

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