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PAPAVER somniferum

Image of Papaver somniferum

Mark A. Miller

Family

Papaveraceae

Botanical Name

PAPAVER somniferum

Plant Common Name

Opium Poppy, Poppyseed Poppy

General Description

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 The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States but it was repealed in 1970.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'.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 1

  • Sunset Zone

    A1, A2, A3, H1, H2, 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Annual

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    3'-4' / 0.9m - 1.2m

  • Width

    1'-2' / 0.3m - 0.6m

  • Bloom Time

    Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    Eastern Europe, Mediterranean, Western Asia

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Very Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Upright/Erect

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Red, Pink, Light Pink, Lavender, Plum, Ivory

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Bicolor

  • Fruit Color

    Light Green, Tan, Chocolate

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Light Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Light Green, Blue Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Light Green, Blue Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single, Double, Semi-Double

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Cutflower, Dried Flower/Everlasting, Edible, Herb / Vegetable, Mixed Border, Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    Sometimes

  • Attracts

    Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes