Poppies come in a vast variety of sizes, shapes and colour and are annual, biennial or perennial. So many to choose from, personally I love the large purple ones.
Probably the best known poppy is the bright red-flowered corn poppy; a world wide symbol of remembrance.
Then there’s the Opium poppy, Papaver Somniferum, used in various medications including morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine, noscapine and of course, the drug opium. The seeds from this poppy are edible. Other varieties that produce edible seeds include Breadseed poppy, Elka poppy, Hungarian Blue Breadseed poppy, Heirloom Pepperbox poppy and the Ziar poppy. All other seeds are toxic!
The bright orange Californian Poppy, Eschscholzia Californica, is native to the US and Mexico and it’s the official state flower of California. We planted this by our shed, it certainly adds a splash of colour!
Poppies have to be one of my favourite flowers, not because they have an amazing scent, on the whole they don’t, but because they add a bit of theatre to any garden. The plant grows from a tiny seed into a relative giant. Large sculptural jagged leaves appear from the ground in mid to late spring. The plant grows at quite a rate and by early summer, enormous ‘swan like’ flower buds unfurl into huge colourful, saucer shaped, floppy flowers with delicate tissue papery petals.
Sadly the flowers don’t last very long but after flowering the plant develops a large seed pod that remains on the plant for some time. To me this is just a beautiful as the flower. The seed pod contains ‘ far too many to count’ miniscule kidney shaped seeds.
The hot summer sun dries out the seed pods and ripens the seeds inside. The seed pot turns from a slivery green to a pale brown. As the seeds ripen the ‘vent’ at the top starts to open up.
At this stage the seed pods can either be cut from the plant, taking care to keep the pod upright so not to lose the seeds. The seeds can be harvested by tipping the pod upside down into a container; literally hundreds of seeds will pour out. Alternatively the pod can be left on the plant to allow the plant to cast seeds naturally. Natural elements will eventually break down the pod structure exposing the seeds inside.
We have tried to grow poppies for the past three years without much success.
In our first year we failed to get a single poppy despite scattering hundreds of seeds in the autumn and the spring.
Year two, one plant popped up, the magenta one featured in this post. Filled with optimism for many more plants the following year we allowed the plant to cast seeds naturally. We also harvested some seeds to scatter in the Autumn and again in the Spring.
Since mid April we have been inspecting the ground expectantly on each visit. Finally this week we noticed that THREE seedlings have appeared. We are thrilled to have three seedlings but given the number of seeds we scattered it’s puzzling why there are not more.
Why aren’t we more successful at growing poppies?
I looked into poppy seed germination and discovered the following:
- Annual poppies grow well in poorer soils.
- Poppy seeds need a spell of cold weather to germinate.
- Allow seeds to self seed naturally.
- Sprinkle additional seeds in the Autumn and again in early Spring.
- Poppy seeds need light to germinate.
The mystery deepens because we have followed the above conditions. Maybe it’s possible that the seeds have been eaten over the winter period or they simply rotted? Maybe the seedlings emerged but were quickly devoured by hungry snails and slugs? Whatever the reason, we have only a few poppy plants again this year so I decided to take the matter into my own hands.
Whilst it’s a bit late to do this and I know poppies don’t like to be transplanted, they have a tap root and don’t transfer well, I have sowed some seeds in modules. I have no idea if this will be successful as the seeds haven’t enjoy a period of stratification, but as Maureen at the allotment says, it has two chances!