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Romneya coulteri

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Large stands of Romneya coulteri, or Matilija poppy, at West Valley College, show their true beauty when students are not actively attending classes. What remains for our landscape plants course during fall semester are its seed pods and withering leaves; a difficult sell when I taut landscape benefits and stunningly large poppies. That dilemma, however, presents an opportunity to discuss a garden's "down time."

There are countless books, magazines, and online imagery of gardens at their peaks, full of flowers, ready for people's Instagram moment. Am I the only one that remembers Kodak Picture Spots? Any-who, for the untrained eye, these gardens appear to be permanently emblazoned with their bold and beautiful displays, when in reality that photo op might only last a few weeks in spring or summer. The rest of the year is certainly not as striking but still has some aesthetic value for avid gardeners and poets.

Matilija poppies fall into this category. Their striking flowers can be on display for the summer but at other times of the year the plant is not so attractive. Designers and clients will need to be okay with their downtime to reap the reward next year. For designers in particular, the challenge is to place them where they can be enjoyed during the summer season but are ignored or recede into the background while other plants are on full display.

R. coulteri is also one to watch as climate change plays out across the state. In Southern California, its native environment is quite limited within dry canyons where its common name was coined. As its popularity has grown, Matilija poppies have spread to garden culture in Southern California, and more recently, to Northern California, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Since it readily spreads by rhizome and seed, taking up residency outside of its original location can be expected, particularly as temperatures in Northern California rise. Again, one to watch over time.

West Valley College Campus Location: Romneya coulteri

Cilker Building (west facing)

Lat: 37°15'57.16"N

Long: 122° 0'40.39"W



Botanical Name: Romneya coulteri

Romneya: Honoree, astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson

Coulteri: Honoree, physician, botanist, and explorer Thomas Coulter

Common Name: Matilija poppy

It is named for Chief Matilija of the Chumash, a tribe that inhabited this area for thousands of years before the arrival of the missionaries.

~ Referenced by the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

Family Name: Papaveraceae

Origin: Native; coastal Southern California to Baja California

design considerations

Positioning: Slope/embankment, layering, against wall

Garden Themes: Native/dry, informal, Mediterranean, pollinator, coastal

Uses: Slope stabilizer, border, specimen, birds/bees

identifying characteristics

Type: Semi-deciduous to deciduous perennial (may be summer deciduous); rhizomatous

Form: Round, upright

Texture: Medium

Size: 6' to 8' tall and wide

Outstanding Feature(s): Flower

Stem: Gray-green


  • Type: Simple to pinnately compound

  • Arrangement: Dextrose

  • Shape: Palmate, pandurate (highly variable)

  • Margin: Entire to deeply lobed (highly variable)

  • Color: Gray-green

  • Surface: Waxy

Flower: Summer. Very large (up to 7") but delicate appearing white blooms with crepe-like petals and brilliant yellow stamens at center. Lightly fragrant, according to Santa Clara County Valley Water.

Fruit: Autumn. Capsule, hairy, gray-green turning light brown

cultural requirements, tolerances & problems

Sunset Zones: 4-12, 14-24; H1

USDA Zones: 6-10

Light: Full sun

WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Very low


  • Texture: Sand, loam, rocky, well-drained

  • Moisture Retention: Allow to completely dry for extended periods

  • pH: Neutral to highly alkaline

Tolerances: Drought, heat, deer

Problems: May readily reseed; may be short-lived; rhizomes sucker; dislikes transplanting

  • Insects: Not observed

  • Disease: Not observed

citations & attributions

Calflora Taxon Report. "Romneya coulteri." Calflora: Berkeley. Accessed on July 20, 2021, from

Calscape. "Coulter's Matilija Poppy." California Native Plant Society: Sacramento. Accessed on July 20, 2021, from's-Matilija-Poppy).

Harris, J.G., Harris, M.W. (2004). Plant Identification Terminology: an illustrated glossary. Payson: Spring Lake Publishing.

Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.

RHS. "Romneya coulteri." Royal Horticulture Society, London. Accessed on July 20, 2021, from

San Francisco Botanical Garden. "Romneya coulteri." Strybing Arboretum: San Francisco. Accessed on July 20, 2021, from

Santa Clara Valley Water News. "Romneya coulteri." Santa Clara County Water District: San Jose. Accessed on July 20, 2021, from

Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on June 28, 2021.


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