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EDITOR'S LETTER: "Irish Peony"

Photo credit; Karen England

Universal truth as seen on a support beam in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin, Ireland. Photo credit: Karen England.

By Karen England.

Photo credit; Karen England.

Karen w/baked goods from that day of Ballymaloe Cookery School training, by the blooming Matilija poppy in Ireland. Photo credit: Karen England.

In July and August of 2004, December of '07 and June and July of '08 I traveled to Ireland for weeks at a time each trip, specifically to study at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. The world-renowned Cooking School is located in the midst of a working 100-acre organic farm and is next door to the world class Ballymaloe House, Hotel and Restaurant, located on another organic 100-acre working farm. The cookery school runs three month long chef certification trainings throughout each year, something I was unable to attend, but I was able to attend many, seven I think, of their week-long intensive offerings over the course of my different trips to the Emerald Isle. My mother traveled with me twice to the school and while I studied the culinary arts during the day she made friends with our dorm mates and the local farmers, neighbors, gardeners, teachers and school staff. Each evening I would tell her what I learned that day and she would tell me who she met as we ate our luscious leftover supper from all that myself and other students had cooked that day.

Photo credit; Karen England.

Coulter's Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, July 2004. Photo credit: Karen England.

One evening, my mom recounted to me a conversation she overheard that day while she was sitting in the sunshine having tea in the courtyard of our dormitory. Two Canadian ladies were also enjoying the fine weather and they asked the gentleman Ballymaloe farmer, as he walked through the courtyard from his home to the fields, what was the name of the "pretty white flower" growing in the nearby courtyard flower bed? Mom had asked me the very same thing the previous day and I told her it was Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, and it was native to our part of Southern California. She should feel at home! So, when my mother heard the farmer's answer to the question she knew it was not correct and stifled a giggle. He told the ladies he thought it was a Peony . . . and walked on.

Ever since that day, what we used to call the Fried Egg Flower, we now call the "Irish Peony" and our Irish eyes smile.

Here is what says about Coulter's Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri:

"Romneya coulteri, Coulter's Matilija Poppy is a species of flowering plant in the poppy family. This poppy is native to southern California and Baja California, where it grows in dry canyons in chaparral and coastal sage scrub plant communities, sometimes in areas recently burned. It is a popular ornamental plant, kept for its large, showy flowers. This is a shrub which may exceed two meters in height, its woody stem growing from a network of rhizomes. The gray-green, waxy-textured leaves are each divided into a few lance-shaped lobes, the blades growing up to 20 centimeters long. The inflorescence is a large, solitary flower with six crinkly white petals each up to 10 centimeters long. At the center of the flower is a cluster of many yellow stamens. The fruit is a bristly capsule 3 or 4 centimeters long containing many tiny seeds. This plant bears the largest flowers of any species native to California, rivaled only by Hibiscus lasiocarpos. It was nominated for the honor of California state flower in 1890, but the California poppy won the title in a landslide. A closely related species, Romneya trichocalyx, has more spiny sepals on the flower buds and overall smaller plant and flowers.  It is summer deciduous and winter dormant, so patience is required to get it established. Once established, it spreads aggressively and may need to be controlled to prevent undesired expansion. Pulling shoots is usually effective."

And this is from San Marcos Growers website,

"The genus was named in 1845 by the Irish botanist William Henry Harvey for the Irish astronomer Thomas Romney Robinson, a friend of Thomas Coulter, who first discovered the plant. Coulter was an Irish physician and botanist who explored Mexico, Arizona and California in the early 19th century and the specific epithet honors him. Other common names include Romneya, Coulter's Matilija Poppy, Californian Tree Poppy and Fried Egg Flower. The common name Matilija Poppy comes from an area in Ventura County, Matilija Canyon, where this plant is abundant that was named for Chief Matilija of the Chumash Indian Tribe. The Chumash Indians used the sap of this plant to make a drink and for medicinal purposes."

Photos here are of Coulter's Matilija poppy grown in Karen's garden in Vista, California.


SDHS Newsletter - Let's Talk Plants! Managing editor Karen England is also a member-at-large of the International Herb Association and a contributor to the

2020 IHA Herb of the YearTM book -

Rubus - Celebrating Blackberries, Raspberries and More!


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