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Life Cycle of Papaver Somniferum

By Bonnie Grant ; Updated September 21, 2017
White Cloud Poppy is also known as opium poppy.

Papaver somniferum (White Cloud Poppy) is known better as opium poppy. These flowers are annuals, which means they will grow, flower, fruit and seed in one year. The large fruit at the end of the season contains a large amount of seed, which is self-sowing. The plants will invariably come right back in the same spot year after year, making it a cheap and easy annual plant. It is thought to be a native of the Mediterranean Basin, southeast Europe and Western Asia.


As the drug opium is derived from this poppy, the seed is unavailable in some American states. It is familiar in older floral gardens and has a classic appeal. Papaver Somniferums grow upright with a single bloom on the stem. The stem is slightly hairy and can get 3 to 4 feet high. The plants can be found in fields, orchards, gardens and low-altitude rocky hillsides in well-drained soil. They grow best when not water logged and in cooler temperatures.


These flowers couldn't be easier to grow. They can be sowed lightly in soil and will germinate within 10 to 20 days. They are fast growing and will be have their second set of true leaves within a few weeks. They can be sowed indoors or direct sowed outside when soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The poppy will set a bud around week six and bloom shortly thereafter.


Papaver Somniferum produces a spectacular flower. The bloom can grow 2 to 5 inches across in the wild but up to 7 inches when cultivated. The petals are thin and fragile and can easily be shaken off the flower. The petals resemble crumpled tissue paper and are formed in a cup shape. There are two types of flower in the species: carnation and peony. The carnation type has fringed petals and the peony type does not. There are a variety of colors and sizes in the sub-species that have become cultivated.


The fruit is also the seed pod. When the flower has finished the petals drop off and the center ovary swells over several weeks. It contains the seeds and will open valves on top to release the seeds when they are ripe. The fruit has a greenish skin and is shaped like a ridged pot with a little lid. The wind and animals are important parts of the next step: carrying the seed to sprouting areas. Papaver Somniferum is primarily self-pollinating, but animals and insects assist to some degree.


The seeds of Papaver Somniferum are tiny dark brown to black. They are the source of the edible poppy seeds used for decoration on food and for seasoning. They can also be pressed to produce poppy-seed oil. The fruit or seed capsule contains hundreds of these seeds and they escape the pod through fissures in the top of the pod. One poppy seed head can produce a field of poppies. The seeds disperse a variety of ways and germinate quickly.


About the Author


Bonnie Grant began writing professionally in 1990. She has been published on various websites, specializing in garden-related instructional articles. Grant recently earned a Bachelor of Arts in business management with a hospitality focus from South Seattle Community College.