Dendromecon rigida occurs in the foothills of the California Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, and the chaparral and woodlands of southern California and northern Baja California Peninsula. The plants occur in these regions up to 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) in elevation. Plants grow on dry slopes and washes, and prefer areas that have just been burned.
Dendromecon rigida is a small shrub, rarely exceeding 3 metres (9.8 ft) tall. The leaves are alternate, narrow lanceolate, 3–10 cm long, more than three times as long as broad. The margin of the leaves is finely toothed. The plant is evergreen and the leaves are somewhat leathery to the touch.
The inflorescences are solitary and terminal. The flowers are 2–7 cm diameter, with four satiny yellow petals. Plants bloom in late winter to mid-spring. The receptacle is funnel-shaped and surrounds the ovary base. Two sepals are shed when the flower blooms, and the petals are shed as well after pollination. There are many free stamens.
The fruits produced are cylindric and dehiscent from the base; the fruits measure 5–10 cm long. The many seeds are smooth, brown or black, with a small pale outgrowth.
This poppy prefers fast draining soils but will grow well in clay soil if there is little to no water after it is established. It has a pH tolerance from 6 to 8 and a rainfall tolerance of 31 to 90 cm. This bush also prefers to be in full sun.
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