Mark A. Miller
Plant Common Name
Opium Poppy, Poppyseed Poppy
The bold colorful flowers and fruits of this large, fast-growing annual have been treasured by gardeners since ancient times. The papery poppy flowers come in many bright shades including pink, mauve, red and white, and the ornamental, bulbous seedpods are the source of culinary poppyseeds, which are used to flavor breads and cakes. Of obscure origin, this poppy is thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean region.
There are legal constraints regarding this garden flower. The trade and consumption of Papaver somniferum seed within the United States is unregulated, and it is legal to grow for garden and seed production purposes, but it is illegal to manufacture opiates from the poppies. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States but it was repealed in 1970. Still, unauthorized farming and processing of this plant is a felony crime.
This annual produces rosettes of large, lobed, bluish-green leaves in spring. The leaves are hairless and have ruffled and toothed edges. In late spring and early summer, plants bear showy, papery, four-petaled flowers on tall leafy stems. The solitary, bowl-shaped blooms are typically pink, mauve-lavender, scarlet or white, often with contrasting eye blotches. Double-flowered forms are often available. Large, decorative, urn-shaped seed capsules follow the flowers, their pleated caps opening to disperse many small black seeds. The seeds readily self-sow the following year. Plants die back after blooming.
This annual grows in full sun in moderately fertile, average, well-drained soil. This is not an annual that transplants well, so directly sow seed in the ground in fall or early spring. Sow by lightly sprinkling the seed on the ground. Plants will self-sow if not deadheaded.
There are serious health risks associated with this plant. For more information on the health risks, visit: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Papavso.htm . The culinary use of the seed is unregulated and poses no health risks. Some of the prettier cultivars include the showy 'Danish Flag', which is white with jagged scarlet petal edges, the deep burgundy 'Blackcurrant Fizz' with fine, serrated petals and fully double lavender mauve blooms of 'Candy Floss'.