Poppy Flower Information

Overview

There are 200 poppy species in the world, according to Skip Richter in the "Texas Gardener" magazine. Only a few types are commercially available, but their richness and range of color make up for any lack. Most are biennial or annual. The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), an annual, has long created a stir due to its narcotic properties, conjuring up the sleep-inducing field in "The Wizard of Oz " and lending a magical aura to all poppies, but the opium producer is only one of the many varieties of poppies that are grown around the world.

Types

The Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) is a perennial and one of the most common garden poppies, according to the Missouri Botanic Garden. Officially labeled biennials, Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) are colorful and great for containers, but sometimes struggle in the garden. It is illegal to grow the opium poppy, yet seeds are found under other names in seed catalogs, according to Skip Richter. Some types of poppies are not Papavers, such as the California poppy (Eschscholzia) and the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis)

Features

Each variety offers something unique. Opium poppies can be single, double, or peony-flowered, writes Skip Richter. Their olors include lavender, rose and pink. The Icelandic poppy's mix of orange, yellow, red and pink is the brightest of any and reblooms if spent flowers are removed. The Oriental poppy has foliage that yellows after flowering in July and comes in red, orange, white, pink and bicolor. The Himalayan blue poppy is a show-stopper, but finicky. The California poppy closes its petals at night.

Geography

Poppies thrive in climates similar to where they originated. Icelandic, Oriental and the opium poppy are from cooler regions and mountain areas, mostly in Asia . Many varieties don't do well in climates warmer than USDA Hardiness Zone 7, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The exception is the California poppy, native to the western states, which is a perennial in USDA Zones 6 to 9. The Himalayan blue poppies are the most temperamental; they like warm winters and cool summers.

Cultivation

Most poppy types prefer full sun and moist, well-drained garden soil with some compost added. If the area is suitable, most types will reseed. The California poppy, an annual in most places, can be a short-lived perennial in its native areas. Icelandic poppies can take some shade and don't like to be overwatered. The Himalayan blue poppy prefers part shade as do all of the Meconopsis varieties and "superior drainage," according to the Missouri Botanic Garden. The most reliable type is the Oriental poppy, which can live for years.

Significance

Afghanistan's poppy fields supply 90 percent of the world's opium, according to the World Policy Blog's introduction to an article by Jonathan Power. Power advocates the purchase of this cash crop by countries in the West to keep opium profits away from the Taliban as well as to ease the world's shortage of medical narcotics. India allows controlled poppy growing for pharmaceutics and it is legal to grow them in Turkey, Australia, France and Spain. In the US, opium poppy growing has been illegal since 1942.

Buds and Seed Pods

Poppies have unique buds that crack open to reveal the flowers. The flowers then unfold into their glory. The urn-shaped seed pods that are left after the flowers pass are also distinctive. Poppies (Papaver) and relatives such as the blue poppy (Meconopsis) all have these features. It is therefore easy to see their common lineage.

Keywords: poppies, opium poppy, Oriental poppy, California poppy, Icelandic poppy, poppy cash crop

About this Author

Janet Belding has been writing for 22 years. She has had nonfiction pieces published in "The Boston Globe," "The Cape Cod Times," and other local publications. She is a writer for the guidebook "Cape Cod Pride Pages." Her fiction has been published in "Glimmer Train Stories." She has a degree in English from the University of Vermont.