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What Is the State Flower of California? Symbols, Facts & FAQ

beautiful california poppy

Every state has a number of symbols, among them are the state animal, tree, and flower. New York’s state flower is the rose, while California’s official flower is the California poppy. The iconic golden-yellow, cup-like flowers grow wild across the Golden State, were enjoyed by Native Americans, and serve as a reminder of the state’s gold rush past. Let’s check out how the flower was chosen, what it means, and more.

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How Was the California Poppy Chosen as the State Flower?

While every state has a state flower, they also chose them through wildly different means. While many states asked schoolchildren for their opinion, each state’s legislature had the final say over which was adopted as the state flower.

In 1890, the California State Floral Society held a vote between three flowers vying for the title of state flower. They were the mariposa lily, the matilija poppy, and the California poppy. The California poppy enjoyed a large initial lead and won the contest by a landslide, though it wasn’t officially adopted by the state’s legislature as the state flower until 1903.

In 2010, the state officially declared April 4th of every year as California Poppy Day in an effort to raise awareness about the state flower.

close up of a california poppy
Image Credit: VIVIANE6276, Pixabay

Why Is the California Poppy Suitable for California’s State Flower?

Every state chooses its state flower based on several factors. Being native to the state is a must, but it must also be representative of the state. This can be because of the flower’s historical importance, unique characteristics, or how it represents the state.

The California poppy is a hardy flower that flourishes in every part of California, with a surprisingly deep and robust root system. It can survive drought, flash floods, and other disastrous events that would wipe out other flowers.

Native Americans used the flower to brew a mildly sedative tea, and the flower can be used as a garnish to add a bitter taste to any dish. More famously, the flower was discovered to grow in abundance around San Francisco Bay when explorers dropped anchor there in 1816. The flower’s “cup of gold” appearance may also be taken as a reference to the state’s past as a gold rush hotspot.

Is It Illegal to Pick California Poppies?

A persistent urban legend among Californians is that it’s illegal to pick the California poppy because it’s the state flower. In fact, there is no law that says you can’t pick the state flower.

This myth likely stemmed from the fact that you can’t remove flowers or vegetation from someone else’s property, and a similar but distinct law prevents picking flowers or other plants from state or national parks in California.

While these laws may or may not always be enforced, the best way to grab some California poppies for yourself is to grow them. Because of their robust, hardy nature, they grow best in the ground. Once picked, they wilt quickly and are relatively poor bouquet flowers.

bloomed california poppy
Image Credit: BarisLu, Pixabay

Other California State Symbols

Every state has a bunch of state symbols that reflect the state’s way of life, history, and personality. Let’s take a brief look at some of the symbols that the Golden State has chosen for itself.

  • State Animal: California grizzly bear
  • State Bird: California quail
  • State Colors: Blue and gold
  • State Fish: Golden trout
  • State Motto: “Eureka!”
  • State Song: “I Love You, California” by F.B. Silverwood
  • State Tree: California redwood

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California is one of the most iconic states in the US, and its state flower, the California poppy, is no less flashy. Symbolizing the state’s past love affair with gold and representing its residents’ hardy nature, the California poppy is universally beloved.

Featured Image Credit: Pexels, Pixabay


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