Q. How can I get a successful start of Coulteri Romneyii. I have a healthy 5’ plant, but each root that has been dug up and potted dies. Thanks for your guidance, Linda Finkas – Lakewood, WA
A. The Tree or Matilija Poppy (Romneyii coulteri) is a shrubby perennial that has white petals with yellow pom-pom centers. I bet your plant is so impressive that you want some more. Don’t feel bad about not having had success yet as these plants can be difficult to propagate. The easiest way to have success is to cut a section of root that has already sent up a sucker. These plants can spread by root suckers but in some gardens they are reluctant. If this is the case then try again with your root cutting. Be sure to select a section of root that is at least as thick as a pencil. Each piece should be at about 6 inches long. You can then divide the root into smaller 2 inch pieces. Place the piece horizontally in a new or sterilized container filled with soilless potting mix. Often cuttings are placed vertically but in this case they should lay on the soil surface horizontally. Push them in slightly so they make good contact with the mix and then cover with about a half-inch of sand. Keep them from freezing and moderately moist. Hopefully you will see some sprouts in a few months. If this is not a named cultivar like “White Cloud” you can also collect some seeds. Soaking the seeds in rubbing alcohol for about 15 minutes helps weaken the seed coat (scarification) and speeds up germination. This replaces the fire-induced germination that takes place in its native chaparral habitats of California. Some people burn pine needles above the planted seeds but the rubbing alcohol seems to do the trick as well. Let me know how you do. I might like one of them myself.