— By Nan Sterman
Fried egg plant and matilija poppy are two names for Romneya coulteri, a giant of the poppy family. This big, beautiful perennial
forms crepe papery flowers as large as salad plates. The combination of white petals and bright yellow center earn this plant the nickname “fried egg plant.” Matilija poppy is native to chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitats, primarily from Santa Barbara County
south into Baja, including San Diego County.
Matilija poppy plants form multiple upright stalks, 6 to 8-feet tall, thicker than a finger, and clothed in fringed blue-green leaves. Come late spring, the tip of each stalk develops marble to walnut-sized buds . Flowers start to open around the end of May and keep going into the summer – depending on your location and the weather.
These plants don’t fit a small garden. They do great on slopes and in places where there is room to spread – alot.
Matilija poppies are very finicky about how they are planted. The trick is to plant without disturbing the roots.
- Plant in fall or winter into a spot with full sun and well draining soil. Plants also tolerate (and spread slower in) clay soils.
- Start with the smallest plant that has been grown in a pot – a one gallon is fine. Don’t bother digging plants up from another garden (and NEVER dig them from the wild).
- Water the plant so the roots are damp when they are planted.
- Dig a hole as deep as the root ball is tall, and twice as wide. Set the soil aside, you’ll need it to refill the hole.
- Fill the hole with water and let it drain.
- Lay the plant on its side. Use a sharp knife to cut out the entire bottom of the nursery can. Don’t let the plant slip out of the can. Instead, place your hand under the cut end of the pot to support the exposed rootball. Carefully lift and set the can (with the plant inside) into the hole.
- Remove your hand and adjust the plant’s position. Use your knife to slit up the sides of the can in two or three places.
- Fill the hole about a third of the way with native dirt (no amendments), and dampen the soil.
- Gently pull the pieces of the can away from the root ball. Carefully finish backfilling the hole with native soil.
- Water deeply a final time to settle the roots, then build a watering basin and complete the process the same as for any other plant.
- Place a root barrier at least six feet out from the plant to get a good show of spring flowers but still contain its spread.
- Mulch with rock or an organic based mulch
- Water periodically through dry periods in winter and the rest of the year so roots stay damp (not wet) through the establishment period which is one or two years. After that, chances are you can stop watering these beautiful plants altogether.
Poppy Wars: Matilija poppy was a candidate for state flower. It was beat out by the California poppy!