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It is a perennial or annual growing to 5–60 in tall, with alternately branching blue-green foliage. The leaves are ternately divided into round, lobed segments. The flowers are solitary on long stems with four petals, each petal 2 to 6 cm long and broad; flower color ranges from yellow to orange, with flowering from February to September. The petals close at night or in cold, windy weather and open again the following morning. The fruit is a slender capsule 3 to 9 cm long, which splits in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. It survives mild winters in its native range, dying completely in colder climates.
Its native habitat includes California, extending to Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and northwest Baja California.
California Indians cherished the poppy as both a source of food and for oil extracted from the plant. It became the California state flower in 1903.