Poppies and lupines are blooming again just in time for April 6, which is the official California Poppy Day.

There was a time when the poppy song was taught to every grammar school child in the state. Even today, when you are with a group of Californians of a certain age and start singing that little ditty, the others will join in the chorus.

"Poppies, golden poppies, gleaming in the sun,

Closing up at evening, when the day is done.

Pride of California, flower of our state.

Growing from the mountains to the Golden Gate," the song goes.

Los Altos teacher Leila France wrote the words and melody in 1917. A 1920 article in the Oakland Tribune reported that France had written 15 songs for children about California wildflowers. The Elite Music Co. had published her songbook, which sold for $1.

Adelbert von Chamisso, a German poet-naturalist, named the orange flower on his 1816 visit to San Francisco Bay on the 180-ton two-masted brigantine the Rurik of the Russian Imperial Navy. He must have found a hardy specimen, because it was October and the poppy was still blooming. It was a flower that the European explorer had never seen before.

Native Americans had been using the plant for thousands of years as a medicine and a food. The Bay Area Indians rubbed a concoction of the flowers into their scalps to kill lice. Mendocino Indians made a poultice of the roots to ease toothaches and also applied the mixture to sores. Women used the pollen as a cosmetic. Some tribes roasted the greens on hot stones for a delicious side dish and Indian mothers used the whole plant in a sedative to calm their cranky babies.


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The Spanish explorers called the flower "copa de oro" (cup of gold). By the time Chamisso found the flower, Spanish women were mixing the poppy leaves with olive oil and perfume to rub into their hair.

Chamisso named the orange flower Eschscholzia californica after Johann Friedrich Eschsholtz, the ship's doctor, and that is how the flower got its official scientific name.

It was in 1890 that the members of the California State Floral Society decided that the state needed an official emblem and that a native flower would serve that purpose.

Three flowers made the society's ballot. The California golden poppy was the overwhelming choice of the membership. Only three people voted for the Mariposa lily, and no one voted for the Matilija poppy (giant poppy).

"Today the golden poppy became the State flower of California by reason of the fact that Governor Pardee signed the bill to that effect, which had passed both houses," announced the Oakland Tribune on March 2, 1903.

The governor's action was greeted with cheers when his message was read in the Senate chambers. Oakland's Sara Allen Plummer Lemmon, the nationally known botanist who had been lobbying for naming the poppy the state flower for more than 10 years, was given the special pen used by the governor to sign the bill.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.