California is home to a few perennial plants, flowering with vibrant color in the spring while lying dormant most of the year, ephemeral plants that are all the more beautiful for the brevity of their appearance.
California’s most famous perennial is the state flower, the Golden Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica), also known as the Flame Flower and Copa de Oro. It grows throughout California, blossoming on 12-inch plants into 2 to 3 inch cups of gold, scarlet, rose, white and bronze. Golden Poppy flowers, which feature four fan-shaped petals, can be seen blooming in large numbers from February through September, with sufficient rainfall.
The Golden Poppy blooms in open areas and grassy slopes such as the Antelope Valley in Southern California and Bear Valley in Northern California; although it’s not just a California flower , its range extending as far north as Washington and as far East as Texas. It was valued by the Indians as a source of food and oil. It’s also known for its sedative properties.
Fortunately for gardeners, the Golden Poppy is drought-tolerant, self-seeding and relatively easy to grow, although it will require occasional maintenance.
The Prickly Phlox (Leptodactylon californicum), a native of the Santa Monica and Verdugo Mountains, is a low-growing shrub found on dry slopes and low elevations from San Luis Obispo down to the Santa Ana mountains. It’s one of California’s most beautiful small shrubs which, true to its name, features spiny narrow green leaves and blooms with fragrant, bright-pink flowers in the Spring. A silken texture also gives them a distinctive sheen.
Theodore Payne introduced the Prickly Phlox into cultivation in 1941. It is related to the granite prickly-phlox, a native of North America from British Columbia to Baja and found in pine forests, mountain passes and even desert shrubland. Like the Golden Poppy, it is drought-tolerant and capable of growing in poor soil and dry climates.
With Spring a few months away, remember to seek them out. Their vibrant colors will be memorable but short-lived.