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Did You Know… ? The Matilija Poppy

Did you know… that the Matilija poppy is named after Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indian Tribe that lived in Ventura County?

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Why the Matilija poppy is called the “fried egg flower”

The Matilija poppy is native to Southern California. Its showy white flowers are the largest of any plant native to California, and look like fried eggs. This is probably why it is sometimes known as the “fried egg flower.” It can be found growing along dry washes and canyons below 4,000 feet in coastal sage scrub and chaparral along the Pacific Coast. The plant can grow up to eight feet tall and is definitely an outstanding show when blooming between May and July. This species likes full sun and well-drained soil and seems to do well in drought conditions. This might be why you can also find them growing along Mexico’s coast.

Chief Matilija – the poppy’s namesake

The Matilija (pronounced ma-TIL-i-ha or ma-til-EE-ha) poppy is named after Chief Matilija of the Chumash Tribe who lived in the hills and valleys of Ventura County during the early 1800s. The stalk has a clear yellowish liquid that the Cahuilla Indian Tribe used to drink. The plant was used medicinally for skin and gum problems as well as to help cure an stomach upset. The Chumash people believed that the petals of the flower were made from the soul of a maiden who died of a broken heart. And that the Chumash gods transformed her into the pure white petal.

Where to find the Matilija poppy

DYK-Matilija-poppy-localYou can find the plant growing from the Sespe Creek Drainage in Ventura County south to Temescal Canyon and into Baja California. This poppy shares its name with Matilija Canyon, just north of Ojai, where these beautiful plants are said to protect the grave of the daughter of the Chumash Indian Tribe’s chief.

So, the next time you’re hiking our many Ventura County trails and see these flowers blowing in our coastal winds, stop a moment, take in their beauty and try to imagine the days of the Chumash.

Image credits: Karol Franks, Stan Shebs and Kat Merrick.

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