Since we've had such a dry winter and spring — only 3.6 inches of rain to date, instead of our average, which is 10-12 inches — this year has been pretty abysmal for wildflowers. However, as they usually do, our state flower the California Poppies have been adding at least a little color here and there.
California Poppies (Eschscholtzia californica) can be either perennials or annuals, and it seems like the perennials are the ones that are still able to grow and bloom despite drought years like this one.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve outside of Lancaster, on the other hand, is home to primarily annual poppies, and they didn't stand much of a chance this year — it is primarily rains in January that determine their fate, and those rains just didn't arrive this year.
Poppies that do manage to persevere and flower typically have short stems. The poppy plants will grow in a vegetative state while moisture is available, then switch to flowering mode as the days get drier, warmer and longer.
In years like this when precipitation is in such short supply, the plants don't get very big before they have to pivot from growing to blooming.
The California Poppy's hardiness, and ubiquity, make them the ideal choice for our state flower. Apparently the California State Floral Society held an election in 1890 to choose an official state flower, and the candidates were Mariposa Lilies, Matilija Poppies, and California Poppies.
Although both Mariposa Lilies and Matilija Poppies are beautiful and charming wildflowers, the election results weren't close and California Poppies won in a landslide.
The chief advocate for recognizing California Poppies in this way was a self-taught botanist named Sarah Plummer Lemmon, who moved to California in 1869, settling in Santa Barbara. She later married another self-taught botanist, John Lemmon, in 1880 and they spent their days exploring and botanizing together.
They went to the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Ariz., for their honeymoon and climbed the tallest peak, which was named Mount Lemmon in her honor — one of the few mountain peaks to be named for a woman.
Sarah's longtime goal was achieved in 1903, when the California Legislature passed the bill that she wrote and declared the California Poppy to be our official state flower.
While California Poppies are generally some shade of orange, they can vary from deep pumpkin orange to lemon yellow and every hue in between. They also show genetic variation in the wild, and I have seen California Poppies that are bright white, cream-colored, rose, etc.
Horticulturalists have taken selections and created a number of different varieties that include pink, purple, red and white that can be purchased online. These typically do not breed true, since their pollen gets mixed with conventional poppies, and the seeds from unusually colored poppies generally produce the more familiar orange flowers.
While this will be a disappointing wildflower year because of the drought, at least some species have managed to endure and provide us with some welcome color. As always, our beautiful and reliable California Poppies are among them.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.