California Poppies - Legal or Illegal?

vja4him(z8 CA)May 3, 2012

Several people have told me that it's illegal to plant California Poppies in my garden.

I have lots of them growing and blooming now! I bought the seeds at Home Depot, and I've seen the California Poppy seeds at Wal-Mart and other stores.

How could it be illegal if the seeds are sold in the store? I've also seen other kinds of Poppy plants in pots at Home Depot ....

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HD would not be able to sell them if they were illegal. A friend brought some opium poppy seeds back from Paris, and those are illegal, but lots of people grow them, even in their front yards in San Francisco. They make very beautiful flowers, but I have not grown them.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 5:52PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

What!?! Why would someone say that? Goodness, it's the state flower for Pete's sake. No, not illegal at all. Maybe your several friends are thinking of the Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. That is illegal to grow in certain countries, but our laws here in the USA are rather ambiguous so you'll see this variety's seeds sold. You can grow them as longs as you're doing so for ornamental or culinary reasons. You can buy and grow Papaver somniferous here, publican. You'll see the seeds sold on, even.

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: 'Danish Flag' Papaver somniferum Poppy Sees

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 6:46PM
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NorCalNiko(USDA 9 Sunset 16/17)

As I recall, I think it's illegal to PICK wild growing California poppies. Not positive on that... having a grade school flashback.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 7:02PM
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Thanks for clearing that up, Patty. My friend who got them in Paris told me they were illegal here, but now that I see they are available, I will want to start growing them again. I'll have to wait until next year, however. I think we planted them in January in Venice, and they bloomed mostly in February/March.

It probably is illegal to pick wild growing California poppies in California. It is illegal to pick wild growing bluebonnets in Texas, although I have not heard of anyone being arrested for that there. They will put you in jail for having dog at large in Texas, however. I know someone who was arrested for that.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 7:52PM
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Yes, I had to look into the papaver somniferum laws in CA recently and it was ambiguous, but as one lawyer said, "if you got arrested, you could probably beat the charge by bringing the judge a poppy-seed muffin from the closest coffee shop."

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 9:41PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

I grow both. The varieties of somniferum sold on the flower market are lousy opium producers. They are breadseed poppies, developed for seed or beautiful peony shaped flowers. They have not been bred for high opium content. That said, for a while it was hard to find seed. Now you can buy it everywhere.

I remember that tale about it being illegal to pick California poppies too.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 11:49PM
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It is illegal to bring plant materials in to California. They ask you about that when you go through customs and even when you cross the border from another state in your car. Maybe the person with the seeds from France was referring to that. The reason for the rule is to keep plant diseases and pests from spreading.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 11:54PM
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There used to be an urban legend/myth that is was illegal to "pick" california poppies because they are the state flower etc.... I heard this as a child, but not lately...

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 1:03PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

It's not illegal to bring plant materials into California, lgteacher. It is illegal not to DECLARE you'e bringing plant materials into California. I moved in 2006 from Maryland back home to California. I had to declare not only all my houseplants, but I also have to declare any "gardening tools & supplies" especially pots that might have been used with outside plants. I had to be willing to allow for a USDA inspection of all my plants and supplies and I had to provide a detailed list of my plants, including their botanical names (they're looking for restricted plants, such as citrus for example). After speaking with the USDA official, they felt they did not need to come and do an in-face inspection. That's how the law works with regard to the transportation of plant materials and related gardening supplies into the state. So you can bring certain things in, and it is legal to do so :-) Just to clarify that.

And yes, there is an urban myth about the California Poppy being "protected". Actually that has some indirect truth to it, as it IS illegal to dig up plants in wildlife areas and re-home them. But, you can certainly plant poppies of all kinds in your yard. Perfectly legal to do so, all sorts of poppies. If you do a Google search for "Papaver somniferum", you'll see some pretty "far out" sites selling them (shades of 1968). They are actually very pretty poppies as cultivars go. Wish I had some in my yard.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 2:56PM
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Nnot a CA poppy, but yowzah!
Pops up occasionally in my yard.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:40PM
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4th generation Californian here. When I was a kid we were told it was illegal to pick poppies that were growing wild because it is the state flower. I think we all broke the law from time to time. :) I wanted some yellow/gold this year and planted swaths of Calif. poppies in my front yard. Did they ever deliver! You can see them a mile away. A sheriff's deputy lives across the street. So far, no arrests.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 9:26AM
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I used to work for the Ag Dept here in Ca. It is not illegal to bring most plant material into the state but they must be declared and inspected. Certain noxious weeds are prohibited of course and any non native plant that may become a noxious weed. They want to inspect things like gardening tools/boats/wheel wells/lawn furniture for gypsy moth eggs/larva as well as other non indigenous critters like Japanese beetle....

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Not only is California state law ambiguous, Federal law is as well.

Harpers published a great article about Opium Poppies by Michael Pollan: Opium Made Easy.

As he notes in the essay, unlike the majority of legal issues, in this case, the less you know (or can claim that you know) the better off you are. With a horticulture degree, I would be insane to grow it.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 10:06AM
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napapen(ca 15)

The licensed legal poppies grown in Turkey are much bigger than ours and have white flowers. The government buys them all. I grown bread poppies and they are different.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 2:00PM
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They are a different cultivar, but they are all Papaver somniferum and the law doesn't distinguish according to variety. Ornamental and poppy seed varieties have some opium in them, even if it would be impractical to make heroin from the latex.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 3:03PM
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Stanford University plants them all over campus in a native wildflower mix - I highly doubt they would be doing this if it was illegal!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 5:04PM
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Since no one has found an actual law, I suspect that the idea that it is illegal is false. However, lets be clear that tinan and others are confused about the potential legal issue. I was a native Californian and was told that it was illegal to pick them because they were the state flower. The point would be that massive picking could distroy the view of bountious orange. Growing flowers on the Stanford campus ADDS flowers and would be super legal.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2012 at 10:10PM
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I'm not confused - it was others claiming that it might be illegal to grow/plant any kind of poppy because they all contain some opium... I am quite sure this is false! Especially as it is the state flower, how could you penalize people when the flower could be growing naturally on their property?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 7:25PM
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Okay, to sum up:

Growing California poppies is perfectly legal, picking them on private property is also perfectly legal.

The only pertinent CPC section anyone has been able to point to apart from CPC 384a which pertains to harvesting of plant material and leaf mold along highways.

Someone speculated that some people were confused because opium poppies are illegal. Someone else observed that they are perfectly legal under at least some circumstances and that devolved into a general discussion about the confusing mash of state and federal law concerning the opium poppy.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 7:50PM
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The reason someone would say that is it is illegal in Calif to pick wild poppies since they are the State Flower. It should be fine to plant them,, though.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 8:21PM
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It's illegal to pick any wild flowers in state or national parks in California. California Code of Regulations 4306 under Title 14: If you pick or harvest or damage a wildflower, itâÂÂs a misdemeanor charge. The ranger will give you a ticket. (I don't know the national park statute.)

(Better late to join a thread than never?)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 11:39PM
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