The California state flower, with its showy blossoms and fernlike gray-green foilage, is universally admired. It thrives west of the Sierra in valleys and foothills. Blooming brilliant orange with 2-inch blossoms in early spring, the flowers become straw-colored and smaller as summer advances. The four glistening petals unroll from a pointed green calyx that looks much like a small dunce cap. After the cap comes off, the bright blossoms open in the sunshine, painting fields and hillsides golden orange. The seed capsules are long and pointed, and as they dry, they twist open with a pop that sends the round black seeds flying.
Spanish explorers called the beautiful flower copa de oro, "cup of gold" or sometimes dormidera, which means "the drowsy one" because the flowers close at dusk. The botanical name is in honor of Dr. J. F. Eschscholtz, a physician and naturalist, who came to explore California with the Russians in 1816 and 1824.
Native people used the green foliage as a vegetable and parts of the plant as a mild pain-killer. Spanish Californians boiled the leaves with olive oil and added perfume to make a hair dressing. An Indian legend suggests that the gold in California comes from the fallen petals of the California poppy.