Eschscholzia californica – California poppy

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a flowering poppy plant from California that grows wildly across vast areas and since 1903 has been the state flower of California. It was given its scientific name, Eschscholzia, by the German poet and discoverer, Adelbert von Chamisso.


During his circumnavigation of the world (1815-1818), he documented various unknown plants and animals, also in California. Adalbert von Chamisso named the genus of California poppy after his friend and colleague, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz – a Baltic German doctor who had joined him on his expedition as ship’s doctor and naturalist. Eschscholzia is also referred to as golden poppy, California poppy or nightcap. The latter derives from the fact that the two sepals initially completely envelop the flower, creating the optical impression of an old-fashioned nightcap. The flowers only open when the sun shines, closing at night, as well as when the weather is bad or it is raining.

The flowers are pollinated by insects. The plant produces orange-yellow (rarely red or white) flowers, and grows to a height of up to 60 centimetres. It is regarded as a “master of survival” during droughts, since the seeds can last for years in dry earth. If the weather is agreeable, the plants quickly germinate and flower, covering the ground with a sea of gold.

Eschscholzia is also found beyond its native habitat. This is due in part to the end of the California gold rush, when many former gold prospectors boarded the ships waiting in San Francisco, leaving the country to try their luck in Chile, New Zealand and Australia. The ships were loaded with sand from the knolls of San Francisco as ballast, and so transported the California poppy to these distant lands.

The plant has been used as a herbal remedy for thousands of years. Native Americans used the leaves for medicinal and spiritual purposes. They used the colourless chyle, in particular, as a sedative and tranquilliser, and as a painkiller for tooth ache. They apparently rubbed the boiled flowers into their hair as a treatment for lice.

Today, the constituents are used primarily in herbal medicine and homeopathy: the aerial parts of the plants are harvested at flowering time.