Dreaming of poppies

by Caroline Brown

Because it's the dead of winter, I want some cheerful flowers on my blog. So I'd like to give a shout-out to one of my favorite flowers: those in the botanical family of Papaveraceae, including the genera Papaver, Meconopsis, Eschscholzia, and Romneya, but known by their common name, poppy.

Poppies are carefree and papery-beautiful with a bad reputation, thanks primarily to Papaver somniferum, or opium poppy, left. The opium poppy is used to make morphine, codeine, and opium, although opium extraction is supposedly very difficult.

You might be more familiar with the Flanders poppy, P. rhoeas, also called the corn poppy or common field poppy and shown at right. The Flanders poppy appears in the sad WWI poem with the famous first lines:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

Or you might remember Sting's somewhat harsher lyric:

Poppies for young men, death's bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed

My California friends will doubtless be thinking instead of their state flower, Escsholzia californica or the California poppy.

This is a photo of the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in Lancaster, CA. I visited there last spring hoping to see a field like this, but I just missed the most spectacular displays.

Poppies are usually grown from seed and can be sown directly into the garden or started earlier as seedlings inside. Most varieties like sun, although there are a few that tolerate some shade. They get along in almost all types of soils. Poppies can be annual, biennial, or perennial, depending on the variety. If you want them to re-seed themselves, don't deadhead the flowers.

In some areas, certain poppies are considered invasives, so check to see if it's invasive in you area before you plant. You can try the USDA Invasive Plant Database, or try calling your state or county agricultural extension service or Master Gardener program. If it's not invasive, plant away. Poppies are sure to cheer up your yard.

Photo credits: 1. P. rhoeas: John C. Watkins V at Wikipedia; 2. P. somniferum: Webster's Online Dictionary; 3. P. rhoeas: BBC News; 4. E. californica: UCLA Geography Dep't

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2 Responses to “Dreaming of poppies”

  1. We had a boom of poppies this year in Holiday Valley!

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