It’s Poppy Season again! Our first Peony Poppy opened overnight, while we have had plenty of wild purple single poppies for the last fortnight.Poppies belong to the family Papaveraceae and subfamily Papaveroideae . Papaver is derived from the Latin word ‘pappa’ for food or milk and alludes to the milky sap produced by some poppies. There are a number of different genera and cultivars listed below:
P. rhoeas: Field or Corn Poppy Cultivars: Shirley Poppy
P. commutatum ‘Ladybird’
P.somniferum: Opium Poppy: Flore Plena cultivars- semidouble and double, including Peony Poppy: Paeoniflorum/ Laciniatum groups
P. setigerum: Poppy of Troy
P. orientale: Oriental Poppy: Flore Plena cultivars- semidouble and double
P. nudicaule: Iceland Poppy
E.californica: Californian Poppy
M.cambrica: Welsh Poppy
M.grandis: Himalayan Blue Poppy
M.napaulensis: Nepal Poppy or Satin Poppy
M. betonicifolia: Tibetan Blue Poppy
Romneya: Matilija Poppy or Tree Poppy
Stylophorum: Celandine Poppy
Argemone: Prickly Poppy
Canbya: Pygmy Poppy
Stylomecon: Wind Poppy
Arctomecon: Desert Bearpaw Poppy
Hunnemannia: Tulip Poppy
Dendromecon: Tree Poppy
Poppies have a very long history. The Opium Poppy, P. somniferum, was domesticated by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 BC and 3500 BC. There are images of opium poppies in ancient Sumerian artifacts from 4000 BC. Ancient Egyptian doctors prescribed the chewing of poppy seed to relieve pain. The Ancient Minoans also made and used opium. The Ancient Greeks later called the sap ‘opion’, which then became ‘opium’ and opium poppies were used as offerings to the dead in both Greek and Roman myths. They are used as emblems on tombstones, symbolizing eternal sleep and its flower and fruit is depicted on the coat-of-arms of the Royal College of Anaesthetists.In fact, all poppies are seen as a symbol of sleep, death and peace: Sleep, because of its sedative effect, and death, because of the blood-red colour of many poppies. P. rhoeas, the Flanders Poppy, grows wild on the First World War battlefields and is a symbol of remembrance of the soldiers, who died in the Great War. Ironically, they were also the subject of the First and Second Opium Wars of the late 1830s to the early 1860s between China, France and the British Empire. China tried to stop Western traders from selling and later smuggling opium from India into China. On the other side of the coin, in Persian History, red poppies symbolize ‘eternal love’.The poppy is on the coat-of-arms of the Republic of Macedonia, while the Californian Poppy is the state flower of… yes, California! For more interesting facts about the history of the poppy, see: https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/opium/history.html
Herbaceous ornamental plants, including annuals, biennials and short-lived perennials.Most flower in late Spring/ early Summer and have blooms with 4 to 6 showy petals, which are crumpled in the bud, then open out flat as they mature, before falling away.
The two sepals fall away as the flower bud opens up. The centre of the flowers is a whorl of stamens and the ovary has 2 to many fused carpals. The pollen of Oriental Poppies is dark blue, while that of Corn Poppies is grey to dark green. Most poppies secrete a milky white latex when injured.Flowers are followed by attractive unilocular seed capsules, capped by the dried stigma and containing many fine black seeds , which escape through tiny holes below the stigma disc with the slightest breeze. Some species are monocarpic, dying after flowering. Many species self-seed freely and can become an agricultural weed.There are 70 to 100 species in Papaver genus alone, so I will be discussing the more common garden varieties.
Papaver rhoeas : Corn Poppy/Field Poppy/ Flanders Poppy
Annual herbaceous plant up to 70 cm tall.Symbol of agricultural fertility in the ancient times and of remembrance of the First World War casualties. We drove past fields of wild poppies in the Cevenne region of France.Papaver, also ‘pappa’, is the Latin for food or milk and rhoeas means red in Greek.Habitat: Thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and probably introduced to northwest Europe in the seed-corn of early settlers. Now widespread throughout Western Asia, Europe and North Africa.Description: Flowers late Spring with blooms, 50-100 mm across, with 4 vivid red petals with a black spot at their base.
The flower stem has coarse hairs and the seed capsules are obovoid. They contain the alkaloid rhoeadine, which is a mild sedative.
Cultivars (all available from Lambley Nursery) include:
Shirley Poppy ‘Angels’ Choir’: Double, semi-double and single flowers, many of which are bicolors, in cream, pastel pink, rose, salmon, peach, apricot, lavender and dove grey;
Shirley Poppy ‘Double Mixed’: Double flowers ranging from white to pale lilac, pink and red.
Shirley Poppy ‘Dawn Chorus’: Flecked and edged in many colour combinations, these crinkled satin flowers range in colour from pure white and vanilla to soft pink, apple-blossom, scarlet and slate blue.
Papaver rhoeas ‘Bridal Silk’: New strain of P. rhoeas with white flowers
Papaver rhoeas ‘American Legion’: Heirloom red flower with white cross in the centre
Papaver rhoeas’Pandora’: Burgundy-red to pinkish-red flowers
Papaver rhoeas ‘Mother of Pearl’: Strain developed by Welsh artist Cedric Morris in his Suffolk garden ‘Benton End’. Soft smoky colours include white, grey, lilac, mauve, pink and soft orange. Many of the poppies are flecked and there are some picotees.
Seeds should be surface sown in a sunny spot late Autumn to mid-Winter, then thinned to 10 to 40cm apart. Forms a long lived soil seed bank that can germinate when soil is disturbed, so is virtually a weed in parts of Europe.Papaver commutatum: Ladybird Poppy
Erect annual 45 cm tall and 15 cm wide with 8cm diameter bright red flowers with a shiny black splotch at the base of each petal in early Summer. Self-seeds easily.
Native to North Turkey,North-West Iran and the Caucasus, Papaver comutatum was developed using a species introduced from Russia in 1876 by Mr William Thompson, the founder of Thompson and Morgan.
The species name commutatum comes from the Latin commutata, meaning ‘changed or changing’. It is used for a species that is very similar to one already best known. In this case, ‘similar to’ the common poppy Papaver rhoeas.
Surface sow seed late Autumn/ early Winter.
Papaver somniferum: Opium Poppy
Habitat: Originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, but its origin has been obscured by ancient cultivation throughout Europe and South-East Asia. It has naturalized in Britain and other temperate climates throughout the world. It is the only poppy, grown as an agricultural crop on a large scale, primarily for opium and poppy seeds.Name: ‘Somniferum’ is the Latin word for ‘Sleep-inducing’.Description: Annual herb up to 1m high. All plant parts are glaucous (grey-green), the stem and leaves sparsely covered with coarse hairs, the lobed leaves clasping the stem at the base. The flowers are 120mm diameter and have 4 white, mauve or red petals, which can have dark markings at the base. They flower in Spring and early Summer. The hairless, round seed capsule is topped with 12 to 18 radiating stigmatic rays and contains many fine black seeds.There are many subspecies and varieties and cultivars, so great variation in : flower colour; petal number and shape; number of flowers and fruit; number and colour of seeds; and production of opium, though most varieties, including those most popular for ornamental use or seed production, have higher morphine content than other poppies.There are two subgroups grown for ornamental use in the garden :
Paeoniflorum Group: Peony Poppies: very double flowers of many colours;Laciniatum Group: very double, deeply lobed flowers, which look like pompoms.Lambley Nursery sells the seed of a variety of Peony Poppies for the garden: Double Coral; Double Red; Double White and Double Mauve and Pink, which I grew last year- I suspect some of them may have been Laciniatum strains as well! Seed should be sown in situ 3mm deep or just sprinkled on the soil surface from mid-Autumn to mid-Winter, then the seedlings thinned to 20 to 30 mm apart. They self-seed easily, with many seedlings appearing spontaneously in the Soho Bed and I have also sown last year’s seed in the Cutting Garden in rows. Lambleys also sell a Peony poppy called ‘Danish Flag’, a bright red single flower with a central white cross.
Papaver setigerum: Poppy of Troy/ Dwarf Breadseed Poppy.
Herbaceous annual plant, closely related to and sometimes classified as a subspecies of P. somniferum. Native to the Mediterranean region and grows wild in pastures and fields in southwestern Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece) and in North Africa.Species name ‘setigerum’ derives from the Latin word ‘saetiger’, meaning ‘bristly’, referring to the short bristle on the top of the lobes of its leaves.The flowers have four pink-purple petals, with a dark purple blotch at the base and bloom in late Spring/ early Summer, followed by glabrous seed capsules, 2 to 3 cm long.Papaver orientale: Oriental Poppy
Perennial flowering plant.
Native to the Caucasus, North-east Turkey and Northern Iran.Grows a mound of finely-cut hairy foliage in Spring, followed by flowers. After flowering, the foliage completely dies away, an adaptation allowing survival in the Summer droughts of Central Asia, to be renewed after Autumn rains.
Originally a scarlet-orange, there are a number of cultivars with colours ranging from white with black blotches to pinks and salmons to deep maroon and plum. Some well-known cultivars are: ‘Beauty of Livermere’ (red); ‘Cedric Morris’ (pale pink and black) and ‘Perry’s White’ (white with dark purple splotches in the centre).
Oriental Poppies do not produce any narcotic alkaloids like morphine or codeine.
They like a light calcerous soil and full sun or partial shade. Sow the seeds at a depth of 1 cm after the frosts have passed, when the days are 21 degrees Celsius and the soil has warmed up. Germination takes 10 to 20 days. They do not handle transplanting or over-watering well. Mulch in Winter to protect the plant from frosts.
Papaver nudicaule: Iceland Poppy
Boreal flowering plant, native to the subpolar regions of Europe, Asia and North AmericaHardy short-lived perennials, often grown as biennials.Large papery bowl-shaped slightly fragrant flowers on hairy curved stems, one foot long, in late Spring/ early Summer. Wild species is white or yellow, but the cultivars range in colour from white, cream, lemon and yellow to pink, rose, salmon, orange and red and even bicolors. Last year, I grew ‘Excelsior’. Other cultivars include: ‘Matilda’ and ‘Oranges and Lemons’. They are the best poppy for cutting, the blooms lasting several days in a vase.Feathery blue-green foliage. All parts of the plant contain toxic alkaloids and are poisonous.The seeds are extremely tiny and should be scattered on the soil surface in situ, as their long tap roots resent disturbance, in Late Autumn and Winter. They like a well-drained garden bed in full sun, but do not handle hot weather well, so are best in climates with cooler Summers, where they can last 2 to 3 seasons.Eschsolzia californica: Californian Poppy
The Eschsolzia genus has 12 annual or perennial species and was named after the Baltic german/ Imperial Russian botanist, Johann Friedrich von Escholtz (1793-1831).Leaves are deeply cut, glaucous and glabrous, and mainly basal.Flowers are funnel shaped and terminal with 4 yellow or orange petals and 12-numerous stamens. There are a large number of cultivars, whose name generally reflect their colour: Orange King; Tropical Sunset (sunset colours- red, orange, gold); Tequila Sunrise (mandarin, red and cream); Dusky Rose and Buttercream.
They are borne alone of in many cymes and close in cloudy weather. The two fused sepals fall off as the flower bud opens. The seedpods are long and pointy and split when ripe to release many tiny black seeds. They self-seed easily, but do not breed true to type, which leads to some interesting combinations and chance surprises. Compare the photo above of the original plantings (only orange) with the photos below (2nd generation plants in the same spot). I was delighted to discover second-generation bright orange poppies under my deep purple Rugosa roses, while their butter-cream sisters chose to carpet the ground under my salmon-pink Vanguard rose, even though I originally only planted the orange form (see photo above and compare to photo below). Definitely the garden devas at work!Californian Poppies like warm dry climates, are drought-tolerant and can withstand some frost. They grow in poor or sandy soils with good drainage and are easy to grow. In fact, once you have them, you will never get rid of them! They can be quite invasive. Their taproot gives off a colorless or orange clear juice, which is mildly toxic.
Name derives from the Greek words : ‘Mekon’ meaning ‘Poppy’ and ‘opsis’ meaning ‘alike’.
Shortlived perennials, which like partial shade and are heavy feeders.
The Welsh Poppy, Meconopsis cambric, is indigenous to England, Wales, Ireland and Western Europe. It has yellow or orange flowers, self-seeds readily and likes damp shady places and rocky ground.
The 40 other species of Meconopsis are all found in the Himalayan region, including Meconopsis grandis: Himalayan Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan, M. betonicifolia, the Tibetan Blue Poppy and Meconopsis napaulensis, the Nepal Poppy or Satin Poppy. Most are monocarpic and difficult to maintain in cultivation. For new growers, some good sites are: http://www.meconopsis.org and http://www.gardenershq.com/meconopsis-grandis.php.
Romneya: Matilija Poppy/ Tree Poppy
Native habitat is Southern California and Northern Mexico.
Perennial sub-shrubs with woody stems, 2.5m high and 1m wide.
Silver-green deeply cut leaves and 13cm diameter flowers with an intense yellow centre, resulting in its other name of ‘Fried Egg Plant’.
Grow in a warm sunny spot with fertile well-drained soil. Not easily grown, but once established are difficult to remove. Often sprout after fire in its native habitat.
Ornamental garden plants
Poppy seeds are edible and are an important food source, being rich in oil, carbohydrates, calcium and protein. The seeds are harvested from P.somniferum. Poppy seed production is largest in the Czech Republic, followed by Spain, Hungary, Turkey, Germany and France in that order. Poppy seeds are used widely in traditional pastries and cakes in Central Europe, as well as in a Poppy Seed Cake in Turkey and Kutia (a grainy pudding) in the Ukraine. They are also used in curries and sprinkled on bread. Poppy Oil is used as a cooking oil, in salad dressings and in margarine, as well as being added to spices for use in cakes and bread.
Papaver somniferum is also the source of the drug opium, which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids called opiates, which include morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine, noscopine and oripavine and has been used as an analgesic and narcotic medicinal drug, as well as a recreational drug.
Widely cultivated throughout the world, its production is monitored by international agencies and every country has its own rules and regulations about its growth and production. For medicinal crops, it was traditionally produced in Turkey and India, but is now also grown in Australia, especially Tasmania. Incisions are made in the green seed pods and the latex, which oozes out is collected when dried and opiate drugs extracted from the opium. Opium was dissolved in alcohol and/or water to make Tincture of Opium or Laudanum, used widely in the late 1800s. It has been used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions from pain to asthma, stomach complaints and even bad eyesight!Floristry: Both flowers and seedpods. Cut or buy when 1 to 2 flowers are opening and the rest of the buds are showing some colour (photo below). The ends of the poppy stems can be scalded with boiling water to stop the leakage of sap, otherwise wear gloves when handling the flowers to avoid skin irritation. Condition in a separate container of water for 24 hours before recutting the stems and arranging in a vase with floral preservative. Will last up to 5 days.Miscellaneous:
Poppy products are also used in paints and varnishes, as well as cosmetics.Finally, the last feature post request for my talented daughter Caro- a quick study of some of our garden poppies, which would make great cards. December’s feature post plant is based on one of her early watercolours. Thank you so much darling for all your wonderful paintings! I really appreciate and treasure all your work! And to finish this post, a dramatic photo of a sunlit peony poppy, which I took yesterday!