Global Range: E. californica presently occurs from western Canada through Texas and in all states in between. Eastwards, it is found in a few plains states and in most states east of the Mississippi River (USDA-NRCS 1999).
Apparently, the native range of this species is the southwest U.S., as far east as Utah; occurrences further east are apparently escapes from cultivation, or resulting from "wildflower," roadside, or reclamation plantings (Nelson and Williams 1992, Welsh et al. 1993, Weber and Wittmann 1996a, Gleason and Cronquist 1963).
Subspecies mexicana is apparently native to west Texas (Correll and Johnston 1970), westcentral and southwestern New Mexico (Martin and Hutchins 1980), all but the northeastern portion of Arizona (Kearney and Peebles 1960), northern Sonora (Kearney and Peebles 1960), extreme southwest Utah (Albee et al. 1988), along the Colorado River corridor into far southern Nevada (Nevada Natural Heritage Program, Kartesz 1988), and desert mountains of California (Hickman 1993). Kartesz (1999) considers it extant in all these states.
Hickman (1993) lists the range of subspecies californica as California to southern Washington, Nevada [western], New Mexico, and northwest Baja California, although the western Nevada occurrences may have spread from plantings (Nevada Natural Heritage Program). It has apparently spread from cultivation throughout much of the eastern and western United States and Canada (Kartesz 1999). It is reportedly introduced and non-native to Illinois, Michigan, British Columbia, Manitoba, Wyoming, Ontario, Tennessee, and Missouri (Natural Heritage Programs).
An attempted introduction of this species was purportedly made in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso, Texas, but the plant failed to persist at this location (Bill Carr pers. comm.).
California Central Valley Grasslands Habitat
This taxon is found in the California Central Valley grasslands, which extend approximately 430 miles in central California, paralleling the Sierra Nevada Range to the east and the coastal ranges to the west (averaging 75 miles in longitudinal extent), and stopping abruptly at the Tehachapi Range in the south. Two rivers flow from opposite ends and join around the middle of the valley to form the extensive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that flows into San Francisco Bay.
Perennial grasses that were adapted to cool-season growth once dominated the ecoregion. The deep-rooted Purple Needle Grass (Nassella pulchra) was particularly important, although Nodding Needle Grass (Stipa cernua), Wild Ryes (Elymus spp.), Lassen County Bluegrass (Poa limosa), Aristida spp., Crested Hair-grass (Koeleria pyramidata), Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens,), and Coast Range Melicgrass (Melica imperfecta) occurred in varying proportions. Most grass growth occurred in the late spring after winter rains and the onset of warmer and sunnier days. Interspersed among the bunchgrasses were a rich array of annual and perennial grasses and forbs, the latter creating extraordinary flowering displays during certain years. Some extensive mass flowerings of the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Lupines (Lupinus spp.), and Exserted Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja exserta) are found in this grassland ecoregion.
Prehistoric grasslands here supported several herbivores including Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), elk (including a valley subspecies, the Tule Elk, (Cervus elaphus nannodes), Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), California ground squirrels, gophers, mice, hare, rabbits, and kangaroo rats. Several rodents are endemics or near-endemics to southern valley habitats including the Fresno Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides exilis), Tipton Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides), San Joaquin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus inornatus), and Giant Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys ingens). Predators originally included grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, mountain lion, ringtail, bobcat, and the San Joaquin Valley Kit Fox (Vulpes velox), a near-endemic.
The valley and associated delta once supported enormous populations of wintering waterfowl in extensive freshwater marshes. Riparian woodlands acted as important migratory pathways and breeding areas for many neotropical migratory birds. Three species of bird are largely endemic to the Central Valley, surrounding foothills, and portions of the southern coast ranges, namely, the Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli), the Tri-colored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor EN), and Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).
The valley contains a number of reptile species including several endemic or near-endemic species or subspecies such as the San Joaquin Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki), the Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia sila EN), Gilbert’s Skink (Plestiodon gilberti) and the Sierra Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchii). Lizards present in the ecoregion include: Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum NT); Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis); Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata); and the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea).
There are only a few amphibian species present in the California Central Valley grasslands ecoregion. Special status anuran taxa found here are: Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii NT); Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla); and Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes). The Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) occurs within this ecoregion.
Although many endemic plant species are recognized, especially those associated with vernal pools, e.g. Prickly Spiralgrass (Tuctoria mucronata). A number of invertebrates are known to be restricted to California Central Valley habitats. These include the Delta Green Ground Beetle (Elaphrus viridis CR) known only from a single vernal pool site, and the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) found only in riparian woodlands of three California counties.
Vernal pool communities occur throughout the Central Valley in seasonally flooded depressions. Several types are recognized including valley pools in basin areas which are typically alkaline or saline, terrace pools on ancient flood terraces of higher ground, and pools on volcanic soils. Vernal pool vegetation is ancient and unique with many habitat and local endemic species. During wet springs, the rims of the pools are encircled by flowers that change in composition as the water recedes. Several aquatic invertebrates are restricted to these unique habitats including a species of fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp.
- World Wildlife Fund & C. Michael Hogan. 2013."California Central Valley grasslands". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- Michael G.Barbour, Todd Keeler-Wolf and Allan A. Schoenherr. 2007. Terrestrial vegetation of California. 712 pages
Comments: E. californica grows naturally in open, well drained areas, in grasslands in deserts, and from valleys to foothills (U.S. Forest Service 1988, Hickman 1993). However, because E. californica is widely cultivated and used in reclamation plantings, it may occur outside of these habitats (Welsh et al. 1993, Gleason and Cronquist 1963).
Subspecies mexicana is known from limestone slopes of the Franklin Mountains near El Paso, Texas (Correll and Johnston 1970), rocky slopes and mesas in westcentral to southwestern New Mexico (Martin and Hutchins 1980), plains and mesas through most of Arizona (Kearney and Peebles 1960), and creosote bush communities in southwest Utah (Albee et al. 1988).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Eschscholzia californica
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: This species is native in a moderately large range in the western U.S. states and northwestern Mexico (and is now widely cultivated, and frequently established and persisting outside cultivation in much of the rest of the U.S. and southern Canada). In its native range, the plant is threatened by habitat alterations and genetic contamination of wild populations with genes from cultivars from roadside wildflower plantings.
Comments: With the rampant use of E. californica for landscaping purposes and roadside wildflower plantings, the primary threat to this species appears to be the genetic contamination of wild populations. This, coupled with the encroachment of human activities on the historic native habitat of this species is resulting in a large scale, human induced transformation in the distribution and genetic composition of this species.
Although subsp. californica appears to be the primary taxon used for landscaping and roadside plantings, in Arizona, subspecies mexicana is also seeded along the roads and sold in desert nurseries (Sue Schuetze pers. comm.).
Throughout most of its current range, harvest of this species for the medicinal plant trade does not pose a significant threat, since it has been so widely introduced. However, some remaining small, high quality natural populations could conceivably be threatened by this practice in parts of the original range of this species. There are currently no reports that individual populations have been negatively impacted or extirpated due to collection for the plant trade.
An individual familiar with U.S. trade in herbal medicinals estimates that trade in this plant for medicinal purposes is on the order of 250 pounds per year (McGuffin pers. comm.). The aboveground parts are used.
Biological Research Needs: Information should be collected or compiled on two issues to help draw a clearer picture on the conservation status of E. californica: its precise original range (at least more precise than what is described above), and its ability to persist on grazed lands.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Uses: FOOD, MEDICINE/DRUG, LANDSCAPING, OTHER USES/PRODUCTS
Production Methods: Cultivated
Comments: This species is widely reputed to be an effective treatment of nervousness, anxiety, and sleeplessness, with its primary action on the nervous system. It is also used to treat stomach cramps, toothaches, and depression (AllHerb.com 2000, Frontier Co-op 2000). It is commonly used in Europe as a relaxant and antispasmodic, and has mild sedative and analgesic properties (AllHerb.com 2000). The above-ground portions of the plant are generally used in medicinal preparations (Robyn Klein pers. comm.). It can be used to make a fresh tincture as a remedy for the above ailments, and is also a constituent of many commercially sold herbal blends. Many such products are intended to help restless children relax. It is also included with wild oats and St. Johnswort in formulas for the treatment of addictions (AllHerb.com 2000). Strange dreams are a side effect of taking this plant in some people (Robyn Klein pers. comm.).
Prices for this species were found as follows:
San Joaquin Valley, California: $3.00/lb of unspecified material (above-ground parts?) (Ed Fletcher pers. comm.)
U.S., internet: $5.96/fl. oz. of "Children's Relax" or "Relax" herbal remedy
U.S., internet: $10.46/2 fl. oz. of "Herbal Wellness for Kids, Orange Flavored"
Fort Collins, Colorado, mail order: $16.00/lb of seeds (~248,000 seeds)
Eschscholzia californica (California poppy, golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold) is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae, native to the United States and Mexico, and the official state flower of California.
It is a perennial or annual growing to 5–60 in (13–152 cm) tall, with alternately branching glaucous blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately divided into round, lobed segments. The flowers are solitary on long stems, silky-textured, with four petals, each petal 2 to 6 cm (0.79 to 2.36 in) long and broad; flower color ranges from yellow to orange, with flowering from February to September. The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning, although they may remain closed in cloudy weather. The fruit is a slender, dehiscent capsule 3 to 9 cm (1.2 to 3.5 in) long, which splits in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It survives mild winters in its native range, dying completely in colder climates.
Its native habitat includes California, extending to Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and northwest Baja California.
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is located in northern Los Angeles County, California. At the peak of the blooming season, orange petals seem to cover all 1,745 acres (706 ha) of the reserve. Other prominent locations of California poppy meadows are in Bear Valley (California, Colusa County), Point Buchon and numerous other locations.
The species is highly variable, with over 90 synonyms. Some botanists accept two subspecies — one with four varieties (e.g., Leger and Rice, 2003) — though others do not recognize them as distinct (e.g., Jepson 1993):
- E. californica subsp. californica, native to California, Baja California, and Oregon, widely planted as an ornamental, and an invasive elsewhere (see below).
- E. californica subsp. californica var. californica, which is found along the coast from the San Francisco Peninsula north. They are perennial and somewhat prostrate, with yellow flowers.
- E. californica subsp. californica var. maritima (E. L. Greene) Jeps., which is found along the coast from Monterey south to San Miguel Island. They are perennial, long-lived, glaucous, short in stature, and have extremely prostrate growth and yellow flowers.
- E. californica subsp. californica var. crocea (Benth.) Jeps., which grows in non-arid inland regions. They are perennial, taller, and have orange flowers.
- E. California subsp. californica var. peninsularis (E. L. Greene) Munz, which is an annual or facultative annual growing in arid inland environments.
- E. californica subsp. mexicana (E. L. Greene) C. Clark, the Mexican Gold Poppy, which is found in the Sonoran Desert. Some authorities refer to it as E. Mexicana. 
Eschscholzia californica was the first named member of the genus Eschscholzia, named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after the Baltic German botanist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, his friend and colleague on Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific expedition to California and the greater Pacific in mid-1810s aboard the Russian ship Rurik.
E. californica is drought-tolerant, self-seeding, and easy to grow in gardens. It is best grown as an annual, in full sun and sandy, well-drained, poor soil. Horticulturalists have produced numerous cultivars with a range of colors and blossom and stem forms. These typically do not breed true on reseeding. Seeds are often sold as mixtures. The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-
- E. californica
- 'Appleblossom Bush' (pink)
- 'Dali' (red)
- 'Lemon Bush' (pale yellow)
- 'Rose Chiffon' (pink and white)
- Thai Silk Series (mixed colours)
An aqueous extract of the plant has sedative and anxiolytic action. The extract acts as a mild sedative when smoked. The effect is far milder than that of opium. California poppy contains a different class of alkaloids:
"An aqueous alcohol extract of Eschscholzia californica has been evaluated for benzodiazepine, neuroleptic, antidepressant, antihistaminic and analgesic properties. The plant extract did not protect mice against the convulsant effects of pentylenetetrazol, and did not cause muscle relaxant effects, but appeared to possess an affinity for the benzodiazepine receptor. The extract induced peripheral analgesic effects in mice but did not possess antidepressant, neuroleptic or antihistaminic effects."
Because of its beauty and ease of growing, the California poppy was introduced into several regions with similar Mediterranean climates. It is commercially sold and widely naturalized in Australia, and was introduced to South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. It is recognized as a potentially invasive species within the United States, although no indications of ill effects have been reported for this plant where it has been introduced outside of California. Ironically, it has been displaced in large areas of its original habitat, such as Southern California, by more invasive exotic species, such as mustard or annual grasses.
In Chile, it was introduced from multiple sources between the mid-19th century and the early 20th century. It appears to have been both intentionally imported as an ornamental garden plant, and accidentally introduced along with alfalfa seed grown in California. Since Chile and California have similar climatic regions and have experienced much agricultural exchange, it is perhaps not surprising that it was introduced to Chile. Once there, its perennial forms spread primarily in human-disturbed environments (Leger and Rice, 2003).
Interestingly, the introduced Chilean populations of California poppy appear to be larger and more fecund in their introduced range than in their native range (Leger and Rice, 2003). Introduced populations have been noted to be larger and more reproductively successful than native ones (Elton, 1958), and there has been much speculation as to why. Increase in resource availability, decreased competition, and release from enemy pressure have all been proposed as explanations.
One hypothesis is that the resources devoted in the native range to a defense strategy, can in the absence of enemies be devoted to increased growth and reproduction (the EICA Hypothesis, Blossey & Nötzold, 1995). However, this is not the case with introduced populations of E. californica in Chile: the Chilean populations were actually more resistant to Californian caterpillars than the native populations (Leger and Forister, 2005).
As the official state flower of California Eschscholzia californica is pictured on welcome signs along highways entering California. It was selected as the state flower by the California State Floral Society in December 1890, winning out over the Mariposa lily (genus Calochortus) and the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) by a landslide, but the state legislature did not make the selection official until 1903. Its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State. April 6 is designated California Poppy Day.
- "California poppy, golden poppy, copa de oro". Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Eschscholzia mexicana at Arizona State University
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica AGM / RHS Gardening
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica 'Appleblossom Bush' (Thai Silk Series) AGM / RHS Gardening
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica 'Dali' AGM / RHS Gardening
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica 'Lemon Bush' (Thai Silk Series) AGM / RHS Gardening
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica 'Rose Chiffon' (Thai Silk Series) AGM / RHS Gardening
- RHS Plant Selector Eschscholzia californica Thai Silk Series AGM / RHS Gardening
- Rolland, A.; Fleurentin, J.; Lanhers, M.C.; Younos, C.; Misslin, R.; Mortier, F.; Mortier, J.M. (June 1991). "Behavioural Effects of the American Traditional Plant Eschscholzia Californica: Sedative and Anxiolytic Properties". Planta Medica 57 (3): 212–216. doi:10.1055/s-2006-960076.
- Klvana, M.; Chen, J.; Lepine, F.; Legros, R.; Jolicoeur, M. (July 2006). "Analysis of Secondary Metabolites From Eschscholtzia Californica by High-performance Liquid Chromatography". Phytochemical Analysis 17 (4): 236–242. doi:10.1002/pca.913.
- MacLeod, B.P.; Facchini, P.J. (2006). "Methods for Regeneration and Transformation in Eschscholzia Californica: A Model Plant to Investigate Alkaloid Biosynthesis". Methods in Molecular Biology 318: 357–368. doi:10.1385/1-59259-959-1:357.
- Rolland, A.; Fleurentin, J.; Lanhers, M.C.; Misslin, R.; Mortier, F. (August 2001). "Neurophysiological Effects of an Extract of Eschscholzia Californica Cham. (Papaveraceae)". Phytotherapy Research 15 (5): 377–381. doi:10.1002/ptr.884.
- "California Government Code §421". State of California. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
- Blossey, B., and R. Nötzold. 1995. Evolution of increased competitive ability in invasive non-indigenous plants: a hypothesis. Ecology 83: 887-889.
- Elton, C. S. The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Chapman & Hall, London.
- Leger, E. A. and K. J. Rice. 2003. Invasive California poppies (Eschscholzia californica Cham.) grow larger than native individuals under reduced competition. Ecology Letters 6:257-264.
- Leger, E. A., and M. L. Forister. 2005. Increased to generalist herbivores in invasive populations of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Diversity and Distributions 11: 311-317.
- Jepson Flora Project (1993): Eschscholzia californica
- Jepson eFlora (2012) Treatment
- The California poppy and its relatives
- Folia: List of California Poppy Cultivars
This species is highly variable (more than 90 infraspecific taxa have been described), not only among different plants and locations but also within individual plants over the course of the growing season, especially in petal size and color (see W. L. Jepson 1909-1943, vol. 1, part 7, pp. 564-569).
Native Americans used Eschscholzia californica (no varieties specified) to treat lice, to induce sleep in children, as a poison, for consumption, for toothaches, and as an emetic (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) represents a highly variable complex; over 90 taxa have been described (Hickman 1993). Currently, two subspecies are recognized by many authors, including Hickman (1993) and Kartesz (1999): subsp. californica (native in the western U.S. and northern Mexico, and apparently the one used in gardens and cultivation and now spread throughout much of the continental United States) and subsp. mexicana (restricted to California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas) (Kartesz 1999, USDA-NRCS 1999, Welsh et al. 1993, Gleason and Cronquist 1963, Nelson and Williams 1992). One segregate species, E. procera, was considered for U.S. federal listing but received '3C' status (not meriting listing because adequately protected or too common); it is not recognized in recent major floristic works.
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