The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) has brought immeasurable relief from pain to countless people throughout the ages. It has also undoubtedly caused untold suffering by people addicted to its alkaloids. My harmless interest lies in the beauty of the flowers.
Withdraw from blooming opium poppies in the garden is a much easier process than withdraw from other forms of opiates. It’s a natural process. They sprout, bloom and then fade away. No headaches, chills, sweats, cramping, hallucinations and all those other horrible symptoms caused by opiate withdrawal. You don’t have to snort, inject or smoke them. Just sow the seed and enjoy. By the time they have finished their lifecycle, you are left with a pleasant feeling and are ready to move on. Often surrounding perennials fill in the gaps left behind by the dying plants. The gaps can also be filled with tender perennials or any other plant you have waiting in the wings.
The opium poppy is considered a hardy annual. Loosely this means the plant can tolerate a certain amount of cold temperatures. The seed of hardy annuals survives winter in the soil, often germinating in late winter or early spring. In this seedling stage the plants are quite tolerant of freezing temperatures.
Propagation is quite easy. Once the seed heads have matured and the plant is nearly dead, break the heads off and spread the seeds. You will not see any plants until early the following spring. This is the method I used when I was given a ripe seed head by one of my neighbors. One spring I saw these unusual plants in our flowerbeds and couldn’t identify them. It wasn’t until I saw the old seed head that I remembered sowing the seed the previous year. You can also save the seed and sow them in the garden in early spring. Snow seeding is another method of propagation. Sow the seed on top of one of the last snowfalls. As the snow melts, the seed nestles into the ground.
If there is a certain strain of opium poppy you want to preserve, it is important to isolate those plants from other varieties. They cross freely. In fact I have lost one of my favorites to cross-pollination. Lauren’s Grape is a beautiful deep purple. A few washed out lavender poppies, which still bloom in the garden, are the only evidence of the once beautiful purple poppy.
There are several sub-types of Opium poppies. Paeoniflorum is one of the sub-types that I grow. The variety Prom Puff is a big puffy pink. Interesting variety, but I still prefer the singles.
There are many varieties now available in seed catalogs. Add this to the ease of cultivation and everyone should be growing these garden beauties.