Growing and Taming the Matijila Poppy


Five feet tall, and half a foot wide, a white flower with bright gold stamens in the center, loomed over the nursery path. Since moving from Michigan four months ago, I had yet to see a plant that really blew me away. That changed that nursery morning when a certain flower stopped me in my tracks. The flower was from a Romneya coulteri: the Matilija Poppy.

I think the world deserves more of these plants. So I had to find out how to get more. As it happens, Romneya coulteri are a very aggressive species and can form huge stands by way of suckers that spread out from the plant. In late fall, you can separate these from the main plant, pot it up and grow a new, genetically identical plant. Alas, it's late spring and not fall. Luckily, that means soon we will have seeds!

Poppie fruits are called “capsules”. They’re dry, brittle and built to split open to release their tiny seeds. We don’t want to lose the seeds to chance. Instead of running out every day to check the fruits or harvesting them prematurely I decided to use a highly technical catchment system, known as panty hose, to entrap the seeds.

Panty hose are thin and porous enough to allow easy air-drying if there's rain, so we don’t have to worry about the fruits getting moldy. We simply tie off one end of a three-inch section of hose and then wrap the bottom part with duct tape to keep it closed.  I must confess I've never done this myself, but I have seen it done on other plants before so this is the perfect opportunity to try my panty hose-based seed caching scheme.

Collecting the seeds is just the first battle, getting them to germinate will be another. From what I have read, Matilija are picky germinators. The primadonnas need to be covered in pine needles and lit on fire for 30 minutes. Strange stuff! Once these plants get established they love sun and well-draining soil. Plant them where you don’t mind having them everywhere as they spread aggressively after a few years. They do go dormant in the fall so  should you need to retake your garden from their magnificent flowers and grey green foliage you might want to wait for the back-to-school sales to start. 

By Ghislain118 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

By Ghislain118 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Comment