Article written by Diane
Who doesn't enjoy setting their eyes on an open field of wildflowers? When you stumble upon the Matilija Poppy your eyes get a delightful surprise!
Also known as tree poppies this wildflower is native to southern California and northern Mexico.
The name Matilija (pronounced ma-TIL-i-ha or ma-til-EE-ha) appears to be of Chumash origin, possibly deriving it's name from Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indians of Ventura County, Ca. The name is also noted in Matilija Canyon above the community of Ojai and Matilija Creek in the Los Padres National Forest.
First noted by the author of the 1897 book, “The Wildflowers of California" Mary Elizabeth wrote “The Matilija Poppy must be conceded the queen of all flowers.”
A photographers delight; this dazzling and defiant wildflower grows where she wants, when she wants defying weather conditions and it's environment. Usually the Matilija poppy inhabits dry washes and canyons below 4000' in coastal sage scrub and chaparral away from the immediate coast and blooms from May to July.
Towering as high as 8' tall the showy white flowers are the largest of any plant native to California. It's bright yellow stamens and a single large pistil is the centerpiece of six crinkled pure white petals. Bees, butterflies and birds busily feed on the pollen of the large centerpiece the flower provides.
A little history tells us that In 1832, Thomas Coulter collected this species, most likely in the San Luis Rey River valley. Later In 1845, William Harvey, who introduced many of Coulter's collected plants to botanists in Europe and America, wanted to name the genus after him. However, another plant already bore his name, so he gave the genus name, Romneya, in honor of Coulter's friend, Reverend T. Romney Robinson, an astronomer, and the species name, coulteri, to honor Coulter. The common name, Matilija poppy (pronounced ma-TIL-i-ha or ma-til-EE-ha) is said to be named after Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indian Tribe.
In the stalk of the flower, there is a clear to yellowish liquid substance that the Cahuilla Indians used to drink. The Native Chumash Indians valued the plant for its medicinal value as well. The plant was used medicinally for skin and gum problems and stomach upset. The folklore of the the Chumash people believed the petals of the flower were made from the soul of a maiden, who died of a broken heart. Their Chumash gods transformed her into the pure white petal.
If you’re thinking about planting Matilija Poppies in your garden, keep in mind that the plant is 'normally' difficult to grow, but when the poppies take root, they can take over your garden so give them space to flourish. They are not called defiant without reason.
According to homeopathic medical advisors today, the tea or diluted tincture, as a drug analgesia, works well as a wash for skin pain and inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, chemical irritation, heat rash, or mild burns or sunburns.
As an astringent, it is a quality antimicrobial, and can be used as a powder to help with more common skin fungi. Though the diluted tincture is not very palatable, it apparently inhibits microbial growth in the mouth, lessens gum sensitivity, and decreases plaque buildup.
Painful and debilitating but not serious bacterial gastroenteritis can be soothed with the tea or tincture, helping to inhibit the bug, lessen the pain and cramps, and act as a mild sedative.
Warning: information on the herbal properties of this flower have been gathered from the Internet and has not been validated by the author. Always do your own research before using any herbal remedy.
Unfortunately, the species is slowly declining in areas of California where development is taking place a may soon become an endangered species.