April brought plenty of much needed showers, but not exactly much in the way of new flowers. This month’s four-star bloom has been steadily showing it’s colors for months, but April has proved to be the peak before summer’s heat starts to send it to dormancy.
California Tree Poppy (or Bush Poppy), known to geeky science types as Dendromecon rigida is the big winner.
From Greek, “dendro” literally means tree, and “mekon” means poppy. I guess it’s a relative term because this is more like a large shrub than a tree. Topping out at 10 feet tall and wide, this multibranched beauty is most commonly found in full sun on well drained slopes and washes. The leaves are a light green to grey, long and willow-like, the flowers bright yellow with 4 petals on terminal branches (the branch ends with the flower).
Best spot to see these in the wild is definitely the Ventura River Preserve trails on our side of the river, between the northern Oso parking lot and the middle Rice trails. They are right on the trail and in full glory right now.
While it is not impossible to find these at your local Nopalito native plant nursery, the island cousin Dendromecon harfordii is far more common. The leaves are a bit more rounded and overall the plant is far more suited for garden situations. This magnificent specimen is in front of Nopalito, it makes me very angry (because I’ve killed literally half a dozen in my garden in 3 years)
This is in full sun in Ventura. If you want to try them here in Ojai I would suggest a spot that provides a few hours of shade. The roots are extremely brittle and sensitive to any disturbance. I’ve lost plants to gophers, clumsy dogs and wind. Once they are well established they can be shaped or even cut back heavily to encourage fresh growth. Go easy or eschew summer water altogether if possible. They may go a bit dormant in the driest part of the year but they are among the first to respond with fresh growth to fall rains. Under ideal conditions flowers can appear all year long, though spring is the peak season
This plant is a real mystery in the propagation world. Cuttings are difficult, usually done in early spring with constant bottom heat to promote new roots. I have yet to have any success on this front. Seeds are easy collect, they look quite similar to the regular poppy pods that you find in your garden. Getting them to germinate is another adventure which has brought some unique methods to bear. Being a fire-follower you need to expose the seeds to intense heat and/or smoke. I piled a whole bunch of pine needles on top of my seed tray, carefully lit it and watched as my plastic tray started to melt (I’m not very bright). Well, happy to report that one month later I’ve got a half dozen little seedlings. I don’t want to jinx it, I’ll post pictures if they survive.