The Elusive and Fleeting Fire Poppy

I found the fire poppies once more, trailless along a tributary fork of a coastal creek high in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Five years had past since my last sighting.

I think the fire poppy, Papaver californicum, may be among the rarest of wildflowers in this neck of the woods, although not officially listed as such by state or federal government. 

Consider the contrast between some seldom seen wildflowers found in Condor National Forest.

The Ojai fritillary is considered rare or endangered by the California Native Plant Society, which says it meets the definition of the California Endangered Species Act and is eligible for official state listing.

The perennial Ojai fritillary is a bulb that sprouts and grows nearly every single year in the exact same spot. It may not be easy to find the first time, but once found it remains so.

Calochortus fimbriatus, the late-flowered mariposa-lily, grows perennially in similar fashion and is also considered rare or endangered by the California Native Plant Society.

By contrast, annual fire poppies may bloom for only a single season in the same place following wildfire or may reseed and sprout again for several years in a row at most.

And then they’re gone, not to be seen again for many years.

Within several seasons the larger woody plants grow back and blot out the sun and the poppies disappear, their seeds buried under heavy leaf litter and shaded by an umbrella of forest canopy.

Other poppy seed may remain viable for a century or more.

The seeds of fire poppies, I presume, may rest dormant on the mountain for decades before finally sprouting again, triggered by wildfire. The blooms are typically few and far between through space and time, elusive and fleeting. 

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2 Responses to The Elusive and Fleeting Fire Poppy

  1. What a stunning flower – and what a stunning colour. That would really lift your spirits seeing those on a hike.

  2. Nice find. I’ve never seen one in real life before.

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