1. Q. I love poppy flowers but I am afraid to grow poppies because of the possibility of being arrested. Is it illegal to grow poppy flowers?
A. Poppy seed are used in several popular pastry foods such as Kolaches and as decorations on Rosebowl floats. Yet the poppy has a bad image in that opium is extracted from the pods of certain species. Major John Kennedy of the College Station Police Department explained to me that only one specie (Papaver sonniferum) is illegal to grow. Seed catalogs from Burpee Gardens, 300 Park Avenue, Warminster, PA 18974 and from Harris Moran Flower Growers Seed Guide list the following commonly grown garden species:
- Papaver commutatum - Caucasus poppy
- Papaver eschscholtzia - California poppy
- Papaver nudicaule - Iceland poppy
- Papaver orientale - Oriental poppy
- Papaver rhoes - Shirley poppy (double - flowered)
2. Q. I love poppies, what information can you give me about some of the different members of this family?
A, Gardeners who love the silken flowers that characterize all the members of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) will find a great variety obtainable today. Poppies are invaluable for bringing bright color to the garden in early summer. Poppies are a diverse group of flowers with annuals, biennials and perennials in their ranks.
Flanders poppy (Papaver Rhoeas), derived from the wild poppy of Flanders fields, and Shirley poppies, a strain of the same species, are annuals which can be sown as the last snows melt, for bloom in June and July. For long lasting bloom, the annual California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) has single and double flowers in gold, orange, red or violet from June to October.
Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are long blooming, short-lived perennials which are easy to grow. Seed sown in early spring will produce flowers from midsummer into fall then from spring to autumn if the old flower heads are removed and not allowed to set seed. Sowings can also be made in summer for bloom the next season. Also consider planting the dainty, low-growing P. alpinum. This blooms readily from seed and prefers full sun, poor soil and good drainage.
Golden-flowered celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum is a fine perennial for naturalizing in partial shade and rich soil while the annual prickly poppy, Argemone mexicana is good for the hottest spots. The perennial Oriental poppy P. orientale blooms for only a few weeks, but its huge, intense pink to red-orange or brick-red flowers make it an outstanding selection.
Most poppies self-sow lavishly and the seedpods are best deadheaded to keep plants flowering and to control their spread. Some late flowers can be allowed to set seed for next year. The one essential for these plants is perfect drainage.
3. Q. How do you grow annual poppies?
A. Annual poppies such as California or Shirley poppies are simple to grow. Scatter the seeds over bare soil in full sun in late fall. Dragging a rake over the seed bed will provide adequate preparation for the seed. When seeding a large area, mix the tiny seeds with sand to facilitate even sowing. Keep the seed bed moist. Germination occurs in about a week. Poppies will self sow if allowed to go to seed, so you may only have to plant them once. On the other hand, they will bloom more profusely and for a longer period if you remove old flowers when they drop their petals. Volunteers can be transplanted to suitable locations if you dig them carefully when they are small, taking a full spade of soil to protect their roots. Space them about one foot apart.
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