We’re moving deeper into fall here in Southern Oregon and we have even had a little snow already. Everything, myself included is getting sleepy as the light wanes and delicate patterns of ice spread across the ground. So we thought we would share a little about one of most delightful and delicate plants, Poppies.
Poppies symbolize sleep and death, so they are a perfect companion for this time. They are the symbol of remembrance for World War 1, as they grew wild in the fields on the Western Front. I remember as a child the bright red poppy pinned to my grandfather's shirt. Poppies have a unique role in history as a medicine and a spice. They grow wild in many places from temperate regions to subtropical areas in the Mediterranean as well as Central Asia.
Easy to grow and care for, poppies are perfect flowers and contain all the reproductive parts needed to self fertilize.They prefer pH neutral to slightly alkaline soils (1). Most poppies benefit from some cold stratification and can be directly sown into the garden soil in fall to late winter. There are a lot of sources that say to plant seeds in fall but I have had success seeding as late as March in Oregon. Poppy seeds are super fine so sow them lightly onto the soil surface and rake the soil gently over so as not to bury the seed deeply. Mark the place where you planted your seeds. Thin poppies to 4-6” spacing once they are a couple inches tall. They generally take a while to bloom, about 3 months. You can plant them in hoophouse if you want blooms earlier in the year. Poppies have a tap root and generally do not benefit from transplanting. I have successfully transplanted them but they are a little fiddly and it is much easier to just sow them directly into the soil.
The common ornamental poppies are from a subfamily of the Papaveracea family called Papaveroidea which contains 12 genera. California poppy, those beautiful orange flowers that show up all over the hillsides here are our most common wild poppies in Southern Oregon. Poppies generally have 4-6 petals, with many pollen laden stamens. They have brightly colored petals with basal guides to attract flies, wasps and bees for pollination. The leaves can be lobed or dissected (2). The seed pods are gorgeous, and form a balloon shaped capsule that is filled with many tiny seeds. One of the first seeds to be looked at under a microscope due to their significance culturally, the seeds are actually kidney shaped and have a texture of honeycombs (3).
There are tons of different types of poppies but some of the most common ornamental poppies are Papaver somniferum, Papaver rhoeas and Papaver nudicaule. Papaver somniferum generally has purple flowers. There are lots of variations in petal size and shape, from smooth to frilly. Hungarian Breadseed Poppy is an excellent choice if you want to save the seed for baking. The seed pods can be harvested dry and used in everlasting flower arrangements. “Rattle” Poppy is a unique variety, the seed pods do not have holes at the top so the seeds will not pour out and they make a nice rhythmic rattle. Poppy seeds are generally really easy to collect for food or save for seed as the dry seed heads encapsulate the seeds. When they are ready the seeds can be poured from the pod.
Papaver rhoeas are commonly known as corn poppies. The Shirley varieties fall into this species and have gorgeous metallic shades in the petals. ‘Pandora’ Shirley, a merlot fuschia flower with silver undertones, has multiple layers of petals and lends a full but ethereal look to cut flower bouquets. When you cut poppies for bouquets sear the cut stem to extend vase life.
Iceland poppies, Papaver nudicaule are subpolar varieties that are“adaptive to low-temperature environments”. Iceland poppies have silky crinkled petals in bright reds, pale oranges, white and creamy yellows. The nodding flower heads split slowly as the bright petals begin to emerge.
They have strong stems which compliment the dainty graceful flowers. It is a beautiful sight in the early spring garden to watch them dance and flutter in the wind.
Poppies make an excellent compliment to a multi-tiered flower garden. They can be planted amongst bulbs and perennials. They self sow easily and will often come back where you planted them originally.
Author: Taryn Hunter