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April 10, 2007 > California Golden Poppies

California Golden Poppies

By Pat Kite

California golden poppies are all over the place right now. They are remarkably easy to grow in full sunlight and so-so soil. In the fall, you mix the teensy-tiny seed with sand or potting soil, and then sprinkle on the growing site. California poppies don't transplant well. In poppy honor, I found the most interesting tale. For those of you who have ever advocated something, then run into political stonewalls, the following should be amusing.

In 1890, at the regular San Francisco meeting of the California State Floral Society, someone brought up the question of nominating a California state flower. Three flowers were eventually nominated: the golden California poppy, the white poppy, and the Mariposa lily. Tension ran high. Debate was lively. But when the votes were counted, the golden poppy won by a landslide. In theory, getting the politicians to approve this should have been an easy task. Taking up the cause was Mrs. John Gill Lemmon, California state committee chairperson of the National Floral Emblem Society of America. She was a botanist and a botanical artist, and certainly well qualified. But her main qualification, as those of us who have taken up a cause are well aware, turned out to be dynamic stubbornness.

She formed committees. She made speeches. She sent out press releases, circulars, letters to editors, and letters to legislators. Onward. Senator Guy C. Early of Alameda County introduced a bill to make the golden poppy the official California State flower. It was thence referred to, among other sites, to the Senate Committee on Education and Public Morals plus the Swamp and Overflow Lands Committee [I am not making this up]. Having passed these, in 1895, it was subsequently vetoed by Governor James H. Budd "for personal political reasons, well understood at the time..."

Despite this setback, people in general took the poppy to heart. In stores everywhere, there appeared poppy buns, poppy baking powder, poppies painted on china, etc. Archives show a Golden Poppy Bakery, Golden Poppy Cleaners and Dyers, and a Golden Poppy Oil & Gas Company, among others.

Four years passed. Assemblyman John A Bliss of Alameda County introduced a bill recommending the golden poppy as California's state flower. Both the Assembly and the Senate overwhelmingly passed it. As a reward, it was vetoed by Governor Gage who stated, "I do not think it a proper subject for legislation."

Did Mrs. Lemmon give up? Certainly not. She stated that the golden poppy bill will be introduced "again and again, until a Governor is found who is broad enough to bury his petty animosities in the interest of the people whose servant he is...."

In 1903, eight full years after Mrs. Lemmon took up the cause of the pretty golden poppy, Governor Pardee approved it. The California golden poppy is now our state flower. A small pretty flower the color of sunshine, and a history lesson too

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