Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Copa de Oro

The Santiago spring might be mostly made of Platano Orientale, but the city has more than a few golden poppies as well.

There’s a lovely story about how the copa de oro poppy came to Chile:
            When news of the California Gold Rush arrived in Chile in 1849, thousands of Chileans went north to try their luck on the gold fields. The sailors that carried them deserted their ships and left their captains stranded in San Francisco, scrabbling for sailors to take them home.
            These ships, returning empty to Chile, brought poppy seeds with them, mixed up with the stones they used for ballast in their empty holds.   Unusually considerate for an invasive species, the poppy hadn’t much interest in virgin Chilean wilderness.  It preferred earth already broken by humans, and spreading inland from the coast, made its way across cultivated fields and along road and railway lines, right across the central valley, all the way up into the foothills of the Andes.  It was Chile’s first shipment of California Gold.  
            The truth is far more prosaic. The California poppy came to Chile all across the second half of the 19th century mixed up in Shipments of Alfalfa. Christened Copa de Oro (cup of gold), the golden poppy  found a dry Mediterranean climate extraordinarily similar to its native California, and burst out everywhere all at once.  Ironically, in some lights, the climate of Central Chile seems far more suited to the Copa de Oro than California. The plants spread further, grow larger and when they get going in spring, bloom bigger - pervasive to the point that to the point that many Chileans today presume that it’s a native.  In spring, the short green plants bust out in flowers, drifts of gold and electric-orange blossoms carpeting the valleys and ridges and hills of Central Chile, turning their faces up to follow the sun.

A plant like the Copa de Oro deserves rather better than an ignominious origin in a sack of alfalfa. Let’s go with Californian gold.

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