Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Plants Resource Page

Plant of the Month - Wind Poppy

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Plant Description

Common Name(s):Wind Poppy
Scientific Name:Papaver heterophyllum
Family:Papaveraceae (Poppy)
Plant Type:Annual
Size:up to 24 inches
Habitat:Chaparral, grassy areas
Blooms:April to May
Fire Response:Fire Follower

Wind Poppy (Papaver heterophyllum) is a native annual plant with bright orange flowers that is usually found after a fire and seldom seen in-between. Grassy openings in the chaparral are the most likely place to find them. Similar in color and appearance to Fire Poppies, they may require a closer look to see the differences.  The most obvious difference would be the darker circle originating from the center of the flower. Next would be the odd-shaped pistil with a short style topped by a fuzzy stigma. Fire Poppy flowers have a circle around the pistil that ranges from green to yellow and its stamens are yellow. The bright orange/red color of these poppies comes from organic pigments called carotenoids.

Wind poppies are "fire-followers". The seeds of these plants require stimulation in the form of heat, smoke or charred wood to become viable. Plants may spend years lying dormant in the soil awaiting their turn in the sun. Amazing to ponder that a brief shot at glory was preceded by many years lying dormant in the soil. This group of flowers is a big part of the magnificent displays of color in the spring after a fire.

Flowers, borne on wiry thin leafless stems less than two feet tall, range in size from one to two inches. Four petals and two sepals define the flowers shape. The two sepals usually fall off when the flower opens. Petals are triangular, bright orange with a dark-colored circle at the center of the flower possibly to attract pollinators. Numerous maroon or purple stamens adorned with contrasting yellow anthers. The pistil comprises a prominent, not square or round shaped ovary, a short style and a knob-shaped stigma. Careful observation reveals that the pistil is one piece compared to the fire poppy’s two piece pistil. We can expect blooms to occur in the March - April time frame.  

This plant produces two kinds of leaves. Upper leaves are simple narrow shapes, those around the flowers base are more broadly oval. The Latin name heterophyllum references this. Surrounded by grasses and other dense vegetation, foliage may be difficult to observe.

Could movement of this plant in the wind attract pollinators? As it floats and bobs above its neighbors, this motion is akin to waving your hands in the air to get attention. Biologists speculate that this waving motion makes the flowers more visible. 

Should you be fortunate enough to encounter one in our local mountains, smile, take a picture and enjoy your good fortune because you will be one of the few to enjoy this experience.

Name Origin:Papa'ver: the classical Latin name for the poppy. (ref. genus Papaver) heterophyl'la/heterophyl'lum/heterophyl'lus: means that the leaves are different on the same plant.
Name Origin was found on - a wonderful site for native plant information.

Wind Poppy - Originally featured: June 2019
Last modified: April 12 2023 09:06:08.
Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, by Milt McAuley
Flowering Plants: The Santa Monica Mountains, Coastal and Chaparral Regions of Southern California, by Nancy Dale
Images Botanical Terms for Leaves