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LANCASTER'S POPPIES; FESTIVAL CELEBRATES WILD SPRING BLOOMS.

Byline: Story by Shawn Wylie

This weekend, 55,000 people are expected to swarm Lancaster - not to experience a religious awakening, not to witness an extraterrestrial phenomenon.

They're coming to celebrate ... a flower.

Not just any flower, mind you. The official state flower. The Eschscholzia californica, known to you and me as the California poppy.

Every spring for the past six years, the city of Lancaster has held the California Poppy Festival to pay homage to the sun-loving native that grows like, well, a wildflower.

``The spring out here can be really pretty, mainly because of the wildflowers,'' said City of Lancaster Department of Parks, Recreation and Arts superintendent Pilar Alcivar. ``This year is a beautiful flower year, partly because we had a lot of rain.''

In 1903, the state Legislature named this herb California's flower, noting that its golden color symbolized mineral wealth and the sunshine of the state.

The California poppy's stem can grow to 2 feet, and the flower's distinctive orange color is displayed on four satiny petals that reach 2-1/2 inches in length. They bloom for a few weeks annually during March and April. And, if treated well, the perennials will grow back year after year.

Our local poppy is one of more than a dozen different varieties found in the world. The blooms - many found in abundance in Antelope Valley deserts - range in color from deep orange to pale yellow.

Poppies used to be widespread throughout California desert areas, but the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve had to be established in 1976 to protect the most consistent poppy-bearing land. Not only was man developing more of the land, but herds of free-roaming sheep were also a problem.

``The flowers were out there, but so were the sheep,'' John Crossman, the poppy reserve's resource ecologist, explains. ``People would come out one day to see the flowers, and the next day they'd almost be gone.''

Visitors to the 1,740-acre poppy reserve will be able to see a dozen different varieties of blooming wildflowers. They'll also be able to take pictures, watch informative flower videos and walk trails.

Festival-goers will be given free shuttle rides to the poppy reserve from Lancaster City Park, 43011 N. 10th St. W., where the festival will be held.

If, after viewing this exquisite flower, home gardeners want to plant a few in their yard, a small bag of seeds can be purchased for 50 cents at the poppy reserve. Most large garden centers also carry the seeds.

``You can buy the seeds and grow them in your yard, but they're not going to last throughout the summer, and they won't look as showy as they do in the spring,'' Crossman said.

While desert conditions seem to be best for the California poppy because of the sunshine and cold night air, home gardeners can also produce a poppy crop.

``They'll just grow smaller in size, and the color will appear washed out - almost to a yellow,'' Crossman added.

California poppies are not the best choice for garden beds or indoors, but so long as they are cultivated on well-drained soil in full sunlight and are continually provided with water, a crop will bloom in the summer months.

The Sundew poppy, a California poppy family member, might fare better in gardenlike conditions or in containers, because the flowers only grow to be 1 inch tall.

Early California settlers called this bright yellow flower, ``Dormidera,'' meaning ``drowsy one,'' because the petals fold in the evening. They used the Sundew poppy, or Eschscholzia caespitosa, as a hair dressing; when the blossoms were fried in olive oil and perfume was added, it was thought to make hair grow and shine.

Vibrant blooms and a shiny head of hair? Maybe the poppy should be nominated as the state's official hair-enhancing ingredient.

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) FIELDS OF GOLD

California's botanical treasure yours to visit, grow at home

(2--3--Color) no caption (California poppies)

(4) Everything's in bloom at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, which was established in 1976 to help preserve the state flower.

David R. Crane/Daily News
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 18, 1998
Words:685
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