Believing this pretty plant worships the sun because it closes up tightly at night and on cloudy days, the Californians of Spanish heritage call it dormidera, meaning ‘the drowsy one’. They still make a hair tonic by cooking the plant in olive oil. This delightful poppy with its yellow and orange blossoms once blanketed the coastal mountains of California. So impressed by the golden colour of the new land Spanish explorers named the region the Land of Fire. The glorious show of poppies didn’t stop there. Right up until development began on the hills the blanket of poppy blossoms shone so brightly that sailors far out at sea were able to use them as beacons to mark their course.
California poppy was mainly used by the Indians on America’s west coast for pain relief for toothache but they also used it as a poultice for ulcers and sores and as a sedative for insomnia and headache. Today it’s still used as an analgesic and gentle sedative, a use that has been confirmed by research, which shows the plant has low levels of alkaloids known to have sedative effects. Similar to other members of the poppy family the alkaloids are contained in the sap.
In the 1800s settlers introduced the plant in to Australia where, after spreading from gardens, it became naturalized by 1879. Today it’s still favoured by Australians as a garden plant and is widely cultivated throughout the country.
The poppy is a perennial herb that grows up to 60 centimetres. Leaves grow from spreading stems and consist of many blue-green segments that look similar to ferns. Flowers are conspicuous, have many stamens, four petals, and range in colour from a bright yellow to a deep orange. The plant can be found growing wild on hilltops, roadsides and waste places. This beautiful flower is the state flower of California.