Poppies are probably one of my all-time favorite flowers for planting in the spring
For more planting of cool season flowers, go to Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers. But for your infusion of poppy info and cool facts, read on.
Satiny, frothy, picoteed, ruffly, frilly, glowing, shimmery…………..the adjectives go on and on to describe poppy blossoms. There is nothing about a poppy that is unattractive. Even the fuzzy hairy foliage is handsome and the seed pods distinctive. Beauty happens in the garden when my poppies blossom and attract native and non-native pollinators from miles around. When my poppies are in full spate, all is right with the world!
There are two types of poppies, perennial Papaver oriental, and annual ones, Papaver rhoeas and Papaver somniferon, the Opium Poppy. The uses of the two plants are also very different. Gardeners grow oriental poppies for their glorious beauty, and they usually come in red or peach. Easy to grow with coarse downy foliage, they make lovely indoor cut flowers.
Although it is illegal to grow opium poppies in this country to make narcotic drugs like heroin, they are grown in other countries for this purpose. Opium poppies are also responsible for producing the poppy seeds that work so well on muffins and bagels, while oriental poppy seeds are not edible and are poisonous. Plant any poppy where deer browse as they will leave them alone.
Cool Facts About Poppies
- During WWI, the poppies disappeared from the battlefields for four years because of the trampling and disturbance of the battlefields, After the end of the war, the poppies exploded in growth, up to 2,500 poppy plants per square inch!
- The poppy began to spread in Europe after the soils in France and Belgium had large amounts of lime left over from the rubble during the First World War. This also caused the flowers to grow around the grave sites of the war dead.
- Major John McCrae’s poem, In Flander’s Fields, was supposedly written on the evening of the 2 May, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, in memory of his friend, Alexis Helmer.
- A few years ago, around the Tower of London, a total of 888, 246 hand crafted ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in WWI, were individually placed in the moat. The placement culminated with a ceremony and a two minute silence to honor the dead.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book features enormous poppy fields and a chapter of the book is titled ‘The Deadly Poppy Field’.
- The poppy’s use in medicine was reworked in George R.R.Martin’s Game of Thrones – where a medicine entitled ‘milk of the poppy’ is used.
- The way opium/heroin is harvested involves picking the poppy plant, taking its unripe bulb (seed pod), making diagonal cuts along the unripe bulb (seed pod), collecting the milky-white fluid which oozes from the diagonal cuts, then allowing the gathered milky-white fluid to dry into powder.
- Opium poppies are grown commerically in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire for use in medical opiates such as morphine.
- Poppy seeds can remain active in the soil for 8 years. Poppy seeds do contain opium alkaloids, meaning that if poppy seeds are ingested, it can give false readings during a drugs test. As a result, people travelling on planes between countries are advised not to carry poppy seeds, and in Singapore they are classified as ‘prohibited goods’.Average seed numbers per plant can range from 10,000 to 60,000.
- Not all poppies are red. They also come in yellow, orange, white, blue, pink, and all shades between.
- Poppies are considered a symbol of both sleep and death. According to Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were used on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep.
Cold treatment is essential to good poppy seed germination. Planted in February, I look hopefully to see new shoots about 6 weeks later. My ritual of planting these beautiful flowers for garden enjoyment or to enjoy up close and personal in my house is part of my February chores. Ordering the seeds in December to get the best variety, I receive them in the mail and it looks like I am going to make lots of poppy seed desserts! For I don’t order packets of a measly number of seeds, but baggies of thousands of the distinctive poppy black seeds.
Using the seeds in cooking is part of my pleasure with the seeds but not the main reason for growing these wonderful flowers. Buying large 1-2 ounce packets of seeds on line is the way to go for me. But it isn’t cheap; For a 1 ounce package of Lauren’s Grape, it runs $26.96! Below is a video of my bees on Lauren’s Grape. It is mass hysteria!
I save the seed heads for dried flower arrangements and crush them to release their thousands of seeds for planting next year. But I can’t save enough of them for my plantings so I buy more, especially of the newer varieties like Lauren’s Grape. The seed pods are ready to collect when they appear wrinkly, feel leathery and the seeds rattle inside the pod. Since they take up a lot of room in my vegetable garden, I need to collect the seed pods while green to dry them in my potting shed. The space in my garden is too valuable to keep the pods in there until ripe. That cuts down on the amount of viable seeds that I can collect.
Sowing the seeds early means that they get the necessary freezing and thawing necessary for germination. Taking about 5 months from seed to flower, the earlier I can start them, the better. Starting inside is an option, but I haven’t had much luck transplanting them.
If you leave poppy seed heads to ripen fully, the seeds that fall to the ground have a good chance of germinating next spring, unless a heavy mulch is applied. Mulch will smother the seeds and keep them from germinating. See how to plant poppies at Cool Season-Early Spring Bloomers.
Sources for Poppy Seeds
Blue Poppy Envy
The Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ is a part of the Poppy genus and occurs in the Himalayan region of the world where it is a lot cooler than most of the U.S. The Pacific Northwest and Canada are successful in growing this beauty but not where I live in the mid-Atlantic. Fortunately, I can visit nearby Longwood Gardens in early spring to see them in person. See my post on these beautiful flowers at Blue Poppy Envy.