Learn Something New Every Day!

I missed seeing them this year.  It is not that I did not go looking for them.  I typically see them near Gorman as I travel south to Los Angeles along I-5.  But this year, they were not really there to be enjoyed, except in small isolated blooms deep in the fields.  I even checked the state natural reserve in Lancaster.  Not many there this year either.

one poppyI am talking about California Poppies.  This delightful little flower is the state flower, and it usually is evident along the highways in the spring of each year.  Each bloom is not very big, maybe 1-2 inches in diameter with several sprouting together out of one plant. They are a vibrant yellow gold color that screams for attention in the hills.  They typically share the hillsides with cream puffs, lupine, and other wildflowers.poppy

poppies and cream cups

poppies and lupine_0001

poppy and fddle stick

poppies medium

lupine too

dadThis year, however, the January temperatures were too low and the annual rainfall was too minimal to produce a great batch of California Poppies.  Typically, the highways are littered with them.  And hills and hills of them are evident at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR in Lancaster, off Highway 138.  I have been there many times to view these natural wonders.  The Reserve offers 8 miles of trails through the hills amongst the flowers.  My dad and I visited there several times, just to enjoy the flowers and take some pictures.

When they are in bloom, they are magnificent:

Vista 1

vista 2

“Simply to see a distant horizon through a clear air—the fine outline of a distant hill or a blue mountain top through some new vista—this is wealth enough for one afternoon.”  Thoreau

vista 3

vista 4

I am always amazed and delighted when the flowers come back every February to May even as I am puzzled about how their appearance can be so varied each year.  I have always known it is tied to the rains—or lack there of.  One year, the rains came, but the grasses sprung up earlier and thicker than usual and choked out the flowers.  Lots of things can happen to impact the blooms.  Recently I read “Called Out” an essay by Barbara Kingsolver and her husband Stephen Hopp in her book Small Wonder—and it addressed this exact phenomenon.  In that essay, they were talking about the wondrous displays of wildflowers in the Arizona desert and explaining how they keep blooming year after year, but the same explanation applies to California Poppies as well.


poppies and lupinemedium hills 2

Simply put, Kingsolver said, “God planted them.” She then offered a more scientific explanation. Apparently the plants ensure their own survival through the variety inherent in their seeds.  Some seeds bloom faster or longer than others, or need more water than others, or are content to wait for years before blooming than others; the seeds are not all the same! Some years might be impressive, others not so much, but the next year is always a possibility. More officially, “Desert ephemerals. . . [stash] away seasons of success by varying, among and within species, their genetic schedules for germination, flowering, and seed-set.”  Each year, more blooms are likely because each species has a “blueprint for perseverance” that guarantees that wildlflowers—like the California Poppy—“will go on mystifying us, answering to a clock that ticks so slowly we won’t live long enough to hear it.”

I appreciate knowing there is a scientific explanation to support my hope that the poppies will keep blooming year after year. And I applaud the wonder of nature every year when they do bloom.  I can only imagine how magnificent the sight was for John Muir over 100 years ago, when it was not hills and hills of gold, but miles and miles of gold.

Here is how Muir described it:

“One shining morning a landscape was revealed that after all my wanderings still appears the most beautiful I have ever beheld.  At my feet lay the Great Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flowerbed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant it seemed not clothed in light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.”

medium field 1

medium field 2

Wouldn’t that be wondrous to view?  Still, I will be content to see whatever flower show blooms each year.  I am hopeful 2014 will be a good year once again.  What are your favorite wildflowers?

Comments on: "TOPIC P: California Poppies" (20)

  1. They are tough to grow here in Texas (at least in my garden they are). I can’t imagine seeing them growing wild like in your photos.

  2. Love the beauty … and thanks for intertwining history and science as well!

  3. I have one yellow poppy plant in my flower bed–gorgeous, but the Texas sun is a bit much for it. Love your photos!

    • Thanks for stopping by. When I was in Texas, I loved seeing the wildflowers along the road. And I love seeing the lupine in the fields out here–to me they will always be Texas Bluebonnets.

  4. Fantastic photos. Would love to see them in person.

    • They are beautiful out in the fields. Any wildflowers are. My mom even loved to see thistle, which is technically a weed. Pretty though! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I think poppies are absolutely lovely, especially a field full of them. I have never been successful with poppies–perhaps it’s our muggy climate here in NJ. My favorite wildflower is butterfly weed (ascelpsias turbos) which is the same vibrant orange as your poppy. Lovely, lovely photos!

    • Thanks for stopping by. I think I know the butterfly weed–and it is gorgeous. Anything unexpected in a field is worth the time to stop and awe!

  6. Absolutely beautiful, Patti. And I so love your nod to Kingsolver, Thoreau, and Muir 🙂 I’ve been writing a course module on American nature writing, so this was right up my alley this week.

    • Connie, thanks for stopping by. A course on American nature writing sounds fascinating. If you are looking for novels, Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer is great–nature is practically a unifying character in the novel. See you in class.

  7. […] not sure how it happened, but it did.  I posted a blog post on California Poppies just the other day, and now it is over a month later.  I think I must have been caught in a weird […]

  8. […] Learn  more everyday reflects Patti Ross’ love for learning and taking notice of the small things in life, like these California Poppies. […]

  9. […] version of Topics A to Z.  I started with Topic A: Arboretum in January, but wrote the most recent Topic P: Poppies back in June.  I am getting back on schedule, with hopes plans to complete Topic Z before the end […]

  10. […] late March 2015, I saw some great wildflowers in Mojave’s Red Rock Canyon.  The California Poppy Preserve is hopeful for a good bloom this year, again in late March or April.  Thus far no extensive blooms […]

  11. […] There was not much color around the entrance to the Poppy Preserve on this visit.  (Past years have been pretty impressive.) […]

  12. […] of my favorite wildflowers are Lupine and California Poppies.  They are both so bold and bright that when they make an appearance, you have to notice them.  A […]

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