Rancho Nuevo Canyon, Dick Smith Wilderness (Early May, 2012)
“It is possible to be indifferent to flowers—possible but not very likely. Psychiatrists regard a patient’s indifference to flowers as a symptom of depression. It seems that by the time the singular beauty of a flower in bloom can no longer pierce the veil of black or obsessive thoughts in a person’s mind, that mind’s connection to the sensual world has grown dangerously frayed.”
—Michael Pollan, Botany of Desire
This here poppy, Papaver heterophyllum, is one of the lesser seen wildflowers in the hills around Santa Barbara County so far as I’ve seen in my few years and limited experience.
I saw a wind poppy at the mouth of Rancho Nuevo Canyon eight years ago.
Dusty David Stillman and I had just finished up a hike through the canyon—Deal Cyn, Rancho Nuevo Cyn 17 Mile Day Hike—and as we came off the trail I glanced over and spied wind poppies in bloom.
Seven years would pass before I saw another wind poppy.
I don’t think Mr. Stillman had any interest, which is not in any way to suggest he isn’t of sound mind. He’s solid like bedrock. Plants just do not interest him like they do me.
I’ve long been fascinated by the plant world and have been a grower of various plants since I was a small boy. When I was about ten years old I rode my bike down from the top of Hope Avenue to La Sumida Nursery on upper State Street, now no longer there, and bought a load of cactus which I somehow managed to transport back home. The clerk overlooked one of those plants and neglected to charge me and I remember feeling like I had won the lottery.
Later as a young adult I worked for Hilton Sumida at that same nursery together with the wife of Dick Smith’s son, for whom the Dick Smith Wilderness was named.
She held in her head an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and people would stop into the nursery all the time to pick her brain, and she always obliged the interrogators.
Once on the side of a mountain below Owen’s Peak in Indian Wells Canyon, Stillman peered over me in curiosity as if watching wildlife.
I had been collecting a can of granite gravel within which to plant the small piece of beaver tail cactus, Opuntia basilaris, I had just respectfully collected for my home collection.
“You’re a real weirdo, you know that?” he had said.
I couldn’t rightly deny the charge. Several years later the cactus offered up a single bloom, seen here.
Back to the Rancho Nuevo Canyon wind poppies. The flowers were freshly popped and new, but the lighting was weak shortly before sunset, the temperature cool and falling, and the blooms were already half closed hunkering down for night.
The poppies grew in a patch of grass between clumps of scorched chaparral. This was five years after the Zaca Fire burned the area in 2007.
The land in Rancho Nuevo Canyon was still in the early-successional stage of regrowth following the wildfire and the poppies appeared to thrive in this particular habitat.
Lost Valley, San Rafael Wilderness (Late May, 2019)
In May of 2019 a good friend and I ambled down Lost Valley Trail after two nights hiking and lounging around in the San Rafael Wilderness in the Santa Barbara backcountry.
The land still looked somewhat scorched from the Zaca Fire, although that fire was 12 years past. Or did another fire sweep the area after the Zaca? Fire has burned so much around this neck of the woods in recent years it can be hard to keep track.
Small pockets remained between the chaparral, yet to close over, where delicate annual herbaceous plants sprouted with gusto.
Here in one of these pockets, much like in Rancho Nuevo Canyon years earlier, right along the trail just before reaching the old rusty sign at Lost Valley Overlook, I glanced over and saw a number of wind poppies in bloom.
This was late May and the flowers were days old and on their way out, but still vibrant.
Wind poppies resemble fire poppies, previously noted on this blog: Fire Poppy (Papaver californicum). Without a careful look one may confuse the two.
Readers of that post may recall the fascinating relationship between fire and Papaver californicum and I imagine the same phenomenon may be at work with wind poppies:
The burning brush and trees of a wildfire produce chemicals found in smoke that regulate plant growth known as karrikins, which are deposited on the surface of the soil. When watered in by seasonal rains karrikins stimulate rampant germination and vigorous seedling growth.