Poppies are either annuals or short-lived perennials. They love sun and bloom in the spring or summer. The colors vary in the species, and range from vibrant shades like crimson red and bright orange, to the more soft shades of pastel pink, rose, lilac and cream. The cup-shaped blooms can be single, double, or semi-double with varied textures – crepe paper-like to satiny.
For centuries, poppies were grown for seasoning and for medicinal use. The flowers were cultivated as early as 5000 BC in Mesopotamia, and poppy seeds have been found in ancient Egyptian relics dating to 2500 BC. In Europe, Asia, and North Africa, poppies were medicinal herbs used for mild sedatives. The name poppy means “to sleep.” Poppyseeds have a somewhat sweet, nutty flavor and are used to add flavor and texture to breads and pastries. The red poppy flower has become the symbol of fallen warriors throughout history, and today it is the emblem to commemorate Veteran’s Day in the United States.
There are some poppies that are in the Papaveraceae family, and have the poppy name but are in different genera. For example:
Eschscholzia californica: California poppy is native to the western coast of North America.
Meconopsis betonicifolia: Himilayan Blue Poppy or Tibetan Poppy, a hardy, cold climate poppy.
Then there is the genus Papaver which includes most of the poppy species, annuals and perennials. A few of the well known Papaver poppies are:
Papaver rhoeas: an annual called corn poppy or Shirley poppy.
Papaver alpinum: a perennial known as alpine poppy.
Papaver nudicaule: known as Iceland poppy, it is also a perennial.
Papaver orientale: another perennial that is commonly called Oriental poppy.
Papaver somniferum: Seed poppy (also opium poppy). It is not illegal to grow this species in the United States for garden use and the production of seeds. It is, however, illegal to manufacture opium from the poppies.
Poppies are easily propagated from flower seeds. They germinate better in cool weather, so the seeding can be done in early spring before frosts season has passed, or in warm areas (zone 7 and warmer) the poppy seeds can be sown in the autumn after the frosts have started. The seeds will lie dormant until the warming temperatures of spring bring on germination. Sow poppy seeds directly in the ground.
Select a site that receives at least 6 hours of sun each day and prepare the seedbed by weeding, loosening the soil and amending with organic matter if the soil does not drain well. Poppies do not compete well with weeds, so soil preparation is an important step. The flower seeds are tiny, so mixing them with some sand is helpful in achieving an even dispersal of seed. Don’t bury the seeds as they need light for germination; a very fine layer of sand or soil is all that is needed on top of the seed and then keep the seeds moist. Once established, a layer of organic mulches can be used to help control weeds.
Deadheading spent flowers will encourage continued blooming. Some of the taller varieties may need some staking and protection from wind. Give adequate spacing between Poppy plants so that there is good air movement. Do not over water. Poppies are typically fairly pest and disease resistant.
Good for cutting and fresh arrangements, Poppies should be cut when the buds are upright and showing some color but the petals are not opened. The cut flowers will last longer in the vase if the cut stems are dipped into boiling water or singed by a flame and then immediately put in cold water.
Poppies are delightful flowers that seem to “pop” up along roadsides and ditches, and they are also cultivated and prized for both their flowers and unique seed pods that are dried and used in arrangements. Many gardeners sow poppy seeds in the fall and then look forward to the happy blooms in the next year.
Read more ...