Eschscholzia californica, more commonly known as the California Poppy, is the official state flower of California. It is native to western and southwestern North America where it can often be found growing in meadows, but also on roadsides and other disturbed areas. California poppy generally grows from 12 -18 inches tall. It is very drought tolerant and thrives on well-drained sandy or cindery dry soils similar to those found on Mauna Kea. At night time or during cold, windy or cloudy weather California poppy flowers close, opening again in the morning or when the weather has become milder.
The scientific name, Eschscholzia californica, comes from a Russian doctor Johann Friedrich Gustav von Eschscholtz, who collected specimens during an expedition to California in 1815. Early Spanish explorers called the plant "copa del ora," which means "cup of gold," after the legend which said that the orange petals of the California filled the soil with gold.Traditionally Native Americans used the California poppy for both food and medicine. Some groups boiled or steamed the plants to be eaten as a green vegetable. Other indigenous peoples used the California poppy to treat various illnesses such as toothaches, headaches, sores, to kill lice and as a sedative for babies.
There are some beautiful naturalized clumps of California poppy growing very close to the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea. Keep an eye out for their dramatic displays of bright orange flowers.