Plant Collector: Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri - the Californian tree poppy

Romneya coulteri – the Californian tree poppy

I wish I could tell you I photographed this splendid Californian poppy in our garden here. We tried, we tried hard to get it established here but failed. That is because it grows in Californian desert and coastal conditions and we can not emulate those in lush dairy farm country. It is the dry open situation that is most important, summer heat less so. Good drainage and light soils are key. Readers in coastal areas might find it viable but be warned that it needs space. It is a giant poppy and the plant will reach around that 2m mark in height and a good 1.5m in width. It grows from seed but the plant develops rhizomes and will be perennial in the right conditions, spreading ever wider.

Look at that flower. It is just a typical poppy with six petals and golden stamens, but looking like tissue paper or crinkle fabric, each flower about 10cm across. It is the sort of plant that will stop you in your tracks. You will sometimes find it offered for sale in this country but probably only from specialist nurseries.

The coulteri in the name is a tribute to an Irishman, not a Californian celebrity. Thomas Coulter was a botanist and explorer who served as a physician to the armed forces around the Californian and Mexican area in the early 1800s. Apparently he botanised in his time off which seems a constructive activity.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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