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Papavers--Poppies

small white poppyPapaver somniferum is the quintessential Moon plant because of its sedative effects, its milky sap, the shape of its pods--even the petals have something Moonish about them. But the presence of iron and copper means that P. somniferum is also ruled by both Mars and Venus, which well corresponds to poppy qualities as both stimulating and sedating, male and female, brain and body, physical and intellectual. The poppy is often associated with both remembrance and forgetting, and its huge ovary filled with thousands of seeds makes a good symbol for female fertility.  Some consider a dried pod full of seeds to be an excellent amulet for attracting wealth also.  The poppy flower is large, its crinkled, almost translucent petals are extremely feminine, and it is fragrant. The dried pods make nice decorations.  One of the most popular medicinal plants in the world and a friend to human beings for thousands of years, the entire plant (except seeds) contains a latex that when dried was once known as "God's own medicine." The seeds have calming effects, and are very tasty and crunchy additions to breads, muffins, and pastries. They also provide an oil prized by artists that does not yellow over time, like linseed oil does. The poppy family is fairly large and contains a variety of poppies--some favor growing amongst the rocks in high mountains, some enjoy the desert, and some are woodland plants. They come in a variety of colors--not only the more well known red, white, and purple/lavender, but yellow, orange, and blue.

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Poppy varieties:

Papaver somniferum :

Other Poppies:

Black Peony

Flemish Antique  


Frosted Salmon

Nigrum [Black-seeded]

 Purple Peony

Scarlet Peony

Swansdown

Yellow Peony

Eschscholzia californica

Papaver bracteatum (orientale)  

Papaver glaucum  

Papaver lateritium  

Papaver pilosum  

Papaver rhoeas

 

 

How to grow Papaver somniferum

Papaver somnferum is an annual, which means it grows, flowers, and fruits in one season, then dies. It generally likes cool weather best. Barely cover the seeds, and sow sparsely so you will have less to thin. They will germinate in 10-21 days and do best when the temperature is coolish, 55F/13C. They will not grow if it is too warm. I have gotten them to germinate at 80F/27C, although they obviously don't like it. If it's warm, plant them in peat pellets as usual and then put them in the refrigerator for a week. They will not germinate in there, but when you take them out, they will germinate en masse.

Thin seedlings by cutting off the tops with a scissors, leaving only the 2 or 3 healthiest looking per pellet.  Pot them up when they have at least their first true leaves, which are the second pair.  I usually let my plants go until small roots are coming out the bottom or sides of the pellet.

While they are just coming up, watch out for damping off (fungus); when this happens, they suddenly keel over in unison. To avoid this, make sure they get air circulation (you can use a slow fan on the sprouts, which will strengthen stems also) and that they are not sopping wet. Another way to avoid damping off and build strong stems is to just lightly brush your hand over the tops of the plants every day.  Most plants enjoy human contact. A third method I have heard of involves using cool chamomile tea (1 tea bag per quart of water) to water the seedlings as soon as they are up.  Other people use 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 8 parts water to drench the soil.

Pot in soil that is not too heavy; mix sand, vermiculite, peat moss in if the soil is full of clay. Garden soil is too heavy for pot-bound plants.  I get the best results with high quality potting soil, like Scott's with some peat moss and compost mixed in. If you want good plants, it is worth it to invest in good soil.

Seeds can be sown in fall if your winters are mild and you can give them some protection. Grow them in full sun and good soil that is not too wet. They will also grow well outside during the winter in the Deep South.

Poppies hybridize easily.  If you do not exclude the pollen of other varieties, and you save the seed from year to year, eventually you will get more and more poppies of the dominant types--single-petaled lavender and white.  If you want to preserve the seeds of a particular strain, choose your biggest, earliest, or healthiest, and as soon as the bud begins to open, cover it with a light cheesecloth or cheap muslin sack, the type used for small amounts of pot pourri or tea, or just make one from a bit of thin, white cloth. Tie lightly.  Some people use little paper bags; others clip the petals closed.  This is just to keep the bees off.  Replace them when it rains so the plant doesn't get waterlogged. Take it off every day to fertilize the flower by brushing the pollen from the stamens (wiry things) to the ovary (in the center) lightly with an artist's paintbrush or q-tip. When the petals fall, you can take the sack off, and the seeds produced by that pod should be the pure strain.  

You can use this same technique to make your own hybrids, taking pollen from one type and putting it on another, which you cover in order to exlude all other pollen.  

Poppies will "bolt" (produce a flower and a fruit) before they reach normal height if they are stressed. I have seen them bolt at 6" from being in a too-small pot. Stress can come from too much heat, too little water, not enough light, poor soil, too many rocks, disease, insects, pot too small, not enough nutrients, uneven treatment (lots of water and then nothing for too long), etc. This has nothing to do with the seed or the variety of poppy.  General growing info

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Purdue's P. somniferum page