Monday, May 21, 2007

California Poppy Eschscholzia californica

I am an amateur naturalist trying to work out what lives in my garden.

Here in Oxfordshire, spring has sprung and a hot, dry April followed by a wet May has bought my garden's California Poppies into bloom (see photo 1, click on it to enlarge) at (1.2,0.1) (see here).

You can see a close up of one of the rather beautiful flowers in photo 2.

Unusually for this site, I am in no doubt whatsover about the identify of this plant, since it was me that planted their parents, having grown them from seed some years ago. They seem to enjoy my garden's rather sandy soil and are systematically spreading their way through the borders.

With due apologies to my US readers I have to confess I was originally drawn to plant California poppy seeds simply because I thought the picture on the seed packet was attractive. I did not learn until very recently that my poppy is the Californian state flower. They were voted as such by the California State Floral Society on December 12th 1890.

The above fact, and virtually everything else I have learnt about the California poppy, I have garnered from the excellent site of Curtis Clark, who (his website informs me) has been studying Californian poppies for more than twenty-five years. It seems that Californian poppies are of interest to botanists since they are highly variable in the wild (in my garden both orange and white (photo 3) blooms appear) and a significant amount of taxonomics and genetics has been required to arrive at the currently accepted number of eight subspecies of California poppy. At one time over a hundred were listed.

Following Dr. Clark's key I arrive at the subspecies identification E. californica ssp. californica for my poppy, on the basis that in my garden the plant is an annual and possesses a 'receptacle rim' (I'm not entirely certain what this is but I'm guessing it might be the rim supporting the seed cases, some of which can be seen by enlarging photo 1).

The curious genus name Eschscholzia was given to the poppy by one Adelbert von Chamisso - a naturalist aboard a Russian expedition that visited California in 1816 - in honour of his friend one Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz who was the physician aboard their ship, the Rurik.

Finally, for no other reason than I always find it wondrous to think that something so tiny can contain within it all (or more strictly, about half) the information needed to create an entire new flowering plant, a photo (click to enlarge) of some California poppy pollen (40x magnification). The pollen grains themselves are the tiny spheres (for example, upper left) clinging to the orange anthers. Rather beautiful I hope you agree.


Amy W. said...

Lovely photos and thanks for the information on the poppies. Sadly I was born and raised in California and didn't know half of it.

Henry Walloon said...

Many thanks Amy.

I enjoyed the "scrapping" on your site - you have a real talent.