Poppies in Los Altos

I’m intrigued by references to poppies in early Los Altos. For example, in a 1909 brochure from Paul Shoup, et al, marketing the area, there’s a photo of poppies with the caption: “Los Altos is famed for its fields of poppies.”

Black and white photo of poppies with caption "Los Altos is famed for its fields of golden poppies."
From Pamphlet 1909, Los Altos, Loveliest Place on the Peninsula

And in Joe Salameda’s book “Memories of Los Altos“, J. Gilbert Smith is quoted talking about poppies and lupines growing in what is now downtown Los Altos:

The area of the present ‘Triangle’ bounded by what is now San Antonio Road, Edith Avenue and the railroad tracks, was at that time nothing but a field of poppies and lupine with a few trees scattered around.

J. Gilbert Smith in “Reminiscences of J. Gilbert Smith”

I’ve wondered previously if this map of early Los Altos (perhaps somewhat aspirational?), I believe from the same brochure, was accurate in showing an undeveloped area from Lyell Street up to the railroad tracks (now Foothill Expressway) and then across all the way to Edith Avenue. I’m thinking based on Smith’s description that maybe it does depict the area as it was.

Here’s a portion of that map highlighting the “Triangle” talked about by Smith:

One dream I have is to help with bringing back the poppies (and lupines and other native plants). There are a lot of medians with no plantings at all. Maybe we could start with them? I’ve also started asking around about setting up planters in downtown Los Altos with native plants. (There are definitely already some plantings of native plants in the area, e.g., in Veterans Plaza and around the Packard Foundation building.) Really though, I have a lot to learn about plants and gardening (and talking to people) before this will be a realistic dream.

Some native plants have persevered on their own. Today I passed by multiple common fiddlenecks growing out of a crack (surrounded by non-native weeds) near to Foothill Expressway:

I also saw a big patch of buttercups in bloom along a path in Redwood Grove Nature Preserve.

Maybe the buttercups were planted — there are some plantings in other parts of the park — but I don’t think the fiddlenecks were.


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