Eschscholzia californica: Is it illegal to pick California poppies?

We’ve been marking the weeks by what’s newest in bloom: snowy jade flowers signal early January, jasmine vines close the curtain on February

Right now, California poppies are blanketing the sidewalks of our neighborhood. Eschscholzia californica is the official state flower; every spring its tender stems and highlighter petals mob fields from Baja to Marin to Antelope Valley. The latter region is famous for its miles of spectacular orange poppies that unfurl every year. Wet winters plus other factors can encourage superblooms, whereas droughts can lead to poppy poop-out disappointments.


California poppies blooming in San Diego. Its native range extends from Western Oregon to Baja California.

Is it illegal to pick California poppies?

That’s technically a myth — it’s not always illegal to pick California poppies. But according to KQED it is “illegal to pick any plant found in state and federal parks. If you pick one, you could be prosecuted for a misdemeanor crime punishable with a fine up to $1,000, and even 6 months in jail.”

And of course, if you’re enjoying the poppies while hiking and/or at a park, stay on the trail and don’t trample them, ffs.

It is illegal to pick plants from someone else’s garden without their permission.

If they sprout in your backyard, though? Sure, you can pick them. But they’re very sad cut flowers, losing their petals shortly after being snipped. The bees need them more. (Just for their copious pollen, as Eschscholzia californica doesn’t produce nectar.) So leave those California poppy flowers where they are, and harvest the seed pods later.

So where can I buy California poppies to grow?

The easiest way to grow California poppies yourself is to plant them by seed.

Typically you’ll want to sow them in the fall — it’s become one of our November to-dos. Native plant org Theodore Payne is an excellent source for California poppy seeds, which range in color from fire engine red to pink to pale yellow to classic golden orange.

Broadcast the seeds and cover with the lightest dusting of soil, and mist with water for the first few days after sowing.

In our experience, they germinate well both in ground and in containers. In fact, it’s not unusual for our container poppies to be the first blooms out the gate!

If you’re looking to buy the sprouted plant, like in a 4″ nursery pot…well, good luck. Eschscholzia californica is notoriously difficult to transplant because it resents having its root disturbed. That said, we have had luck with a gorgeous potted Eschscholzia californica ‘Apricot Chiffon’ bought at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden gift shop and repotted into a larger clay pot. Annie’s Annuals also sells starter plants.

Expect them to bloom in early spring, with some poppies hanging around the party through mid summer, and we’ve even seen them in bloom in late September in cooler, coastal Santa Barbara.

And if you’d like to rock your love of poppies all year long, check out the tees of Heavy Petal, which Chantal co-founded.