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Poppy
Papaver

In Flanders Field the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row...

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Poppies are a time-tested gardening favorite.  For showy bloom, that can be seen from a long way off, easy care, interesting-looking flower buds, and geometric-design seed pods for flower arrangements, there's really no substitute for them in the home landscape.

We have all heard of the opium poppy (papaver somniferum), which has been used medicinally for centuries, and which incidentally is illegal to grow in most areas (see more on this type of poppy in the medicinal section). The plant is an annual that sports large, attractive flowers that bloom in the spring.  Flowers colors range from purple to  pink to deep red, and variegated specimens are not uncommon.  The flowers forms include single, double, semi-double, peony flowered, and tulip flowered types, to name just a few.  These are very nice garden flowers, and in that respect it is a shame that they cannot be enjoyed in the garden.  Fortunately for us, there are other types of poppies that are just as beautiful and easy to grow, and don't carry the stigma that the opium poppy is burdened with. 

The Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is a fabulous plant pictured here and as a bud below.  This is the renowned Flanders Field Poppy, and is also known as the Shirley or field poppy.  It is an annual that self seeds readily.  In spring or early summer, the interesting-looking buds open  into beautiful single, semi-double, or double flowers on 2 foot stems in pink, red, white, and yellow.  This variety of poppy is a show-stopper when massed in the garden.

Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are also grown as annuals and sport fragrant, delicate orange, white, red, pink, or peach-colored flowers that are up to 3 inches across on 2 foot stems.  

Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are grown as perennials and very much resemble the other poppies as far as foliage and flower types, but they return year after year when given adequate growing conditions, and the clump will become bigger with time.  These are majestic-looking plants that grow 2-4 feet tall with big, bold flowers borne on long, graceful stems. 

The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a native orange, gold, or yellow wildflower in California and the southwest that blankets hillsides with color from spring until the first frost.  It is a tender perennial that self seeds freely, explaining its success in the wild.  The petals close at dusk and on dark days, but while they are open, the plant appears to radiate energy.

The Mexican Poppy or Mexican Prickly Poppy (Argemone Mexicana) has big white or yellow flowers with thistle-like seeds.  It grows wild in the temperate areas of the southern US and Mexico, and favors full sun and dry conditions.  It self seeds freely and can become a pest if left unfettered.

All poppies need the same basic care in the home garden setting.  Well-drained soil is at the very top of the list, as these plants will decline rapidly in overly wet conditions.  Full or nearly full sun is another requirement for success with these plants, but otherwise all the poppy varieties are incredibly easy to grow in the home garden - and the return is a spectacular show.  The perennial varieties can be propagated by root division in the fall, and seed for any variety can be sown either in fall or very early spring - most need some frost to germinate properly.  Some poppies resent transplanting, so if at all possible, sow poppy seeds where you want the plants to grow. 

Poppies attract birds, bees, and beneficial insects, and as such as an excellent choice for a habitat-type situation.  They are wonderful in drifts by themselves and also add bright color to the perennial garden.  Single varieties lend themselves well to pressing, and the interesting seed pods make great additions to flower arrangements and craft projects.  Poppy seed is a common ingredient in baking, and throughout history these plants have been harvested for their medicinal qualities.  Please see the link below for more information on this aspect of this amazing plant.

 

 

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