Opium poppies are one of the most delightful plants to grow for early flowers. This variety flowers prolifically over many weeks. The slightly blue green foliage beautifully offsets the light pink or red double flowers that look more like fluffy headdresses and would be perfect wedding flowers. Plants like cooler weather and grow easily from direct seeding flowering in about 10 weeks from germination. Ideal for deck planters, borders and cooler sunny locations. Needs full sun and some water but is very easy to grow with little maintenance. Seeds can be used to decorate baked goods or other culinary creations.
Description of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
There are many different varieties of opium poppy. This one is short with double flowers. It has an upright nature and grows to about 2 feet (60 cm) in height. A fast growing annual it first produces a mass of blue green leaves in a semi upright rosette of lobate leaves that have a thick central stalk and crinkled indented lobes with a strongly serrated edge. In late spring strong stiff stems emerge with more sinuate or heart shaped leaves wrapped around the stem at intervals. The stem ends in a large single flower bud which opens into a bowl shaped flower with four or five large outer petals in either pale pink or red. These most commonly have darker markings at the base of the petal. Inside these petals are a mass of thin frilly petals massed around a central yellow green ovary in the center. While blooms tend to be short lived the plant produces masses of flowers and the plant will flower for 4-6 weeks. After the flower the petals fall to reveal the large pod which is dark purple to purple brown in color but may turn white in bright sunlight. These bulbous pods are very attractive and can be used in floral decorations. The small seeds emerge from the top of the pod and are easily removed.
Growing Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) from Seed.
Poppies do not like to be transplanted so direct sowing is recommended.
Poppies prefer cooler weather and will not grow as well in zone 9 or warmer. They prefer it when temperatures get cooler and a overnight temperature drop of around 20°F (6°C) is ideal.
Plant poppies as soon as the ground is workable. This will depend on your zone but if its not frozen and there is no more snow or very cold temperatures predicted then start you poppies. Clear the ground and sow the seeds very thinly. Cover lightly we soil, this can be achieved by careful sprinkle or using a wide messed kitchen sieve to sprinkle seeds (don't take one from the kitchen however). Keep seeds moist until they germinate, which can take anywhere from 7 -25 days depending on what the weather does. Once growing strongly thin plants to about 8" (20 cm) apart. Keep watered throughout their cycle.
Sowing in planters.
Poppies make great pot plants for the deck or other areas of the garden. They bloom earlier in the year than many plants so give color before most annuals are ready to bloom. Follow directions for direct sowing.
Poppies really don't transplant well because they form a large taproot. So if you need to start your plants inside use tall (or long depending on how you measure) peat or paper pots. You need something that will allow the plant to develop its long root system that you can plant directly in the ground without disturbing the roots.
Plant just a few seeds in each pot and cover them lightly with soil. See our general growing instructions for more detailed description on planting seeds.
Keep at cool temperatures night-time temperatures of between 35-45°F (1.6-7.2°C) and day-time temperatures of between 50-65°F (10-18°C) are close to optimal any warmer and poppies may not germinate. Once seedlings appear they can be thinned to the desired number per pot.
Harden plants before planting outside, ensure that plants are kept moist as peat or paper pots tend to dry out very quickly. Take care not to disturb the roots when transplanting, plants may flop over and look unhappy for several days after transplant but most usually recover if the roots have been left alone. Keep moist at all times until the plants are well established.
Location and Care of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Poppies prefer full sun in a well drained soil. A sandy or sandy loam soil is ideal. They don't like heavy soils and really don't do well in clay. If you have clay soil you will need to amend it with a good amount of well composted organic material to ensure good drainage or grow your poppies in pots of imported soil.
Opium poppies also like a good amount of organic material for them to grow strongly. Adding at least two inches to the soil and digging it in before planting is idea, more if you have clay soil that has not been previously amended. Poppies like cooler weather which is great for those in zones 6 and higher but zone 7 or lower may need to take extra care about location. Pick a spot that gets some shade around the noon hours to keep the plants cooler or grow on the north side of buildings, walls or trees, areas that stay cooler but still have good air flow.
Poppies begin to flower about 8-10 weeks after they germinate so if planted
early they give a really lovely early summer flowering when most other plants
are still thinking about flowering.
Plant 8-12" (20-30cm) apart to encourage good strong plants. An application of high phosphate fertilizer when the flower buds are just beginning to form will help promote profuse flowering. To promote more flowers cut the old blooms off just as the petals are falling.
Harvesting of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Seeds are easily harvested from the pods. Wait until the pods are dry and either brown, white or purple then cut off the stems and immediately upend into a bucket the seeds drop out of the pod into the bucket easily. Spread seeds to dry in a warm sunny indoor location for a brief period then store in air tight jars in a cooler dark place. Seeds for eating will keep of several years.
Culinary Uses of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Everyone seems to like poppy seeds. They are used in all kinds of baked goods. The seeds are highly nutritious containing about 22.7% protein, 48% fat, 9.8% carbohydrate, 7.1% ash. They are also a good source of lecithin.
The seeds are perfectly safe to eat, containing very little if any of the narcotic principles. However, although the seeds contain no narcotic alkaloids, analysis of the urine following their ingestion may produce similar results to the analysis of the urine of morphine or heroin addicts.
In some countries the leaves are also eaten when they are young, often at the seedling stage. However caution is advised as it is not clear if the leaves contain any narcotic compounds. The leaves are mildly rough and best consumed cooked unless you like unusual textures.
Medical uses of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
The Opium Poppy plant is the source of opium and it's chemical derivatives morphine and heroine. Opium is collected from the resin of the poppy pods. It is not recommended for this variety as the pods while prolific are fairly small and it would be extremely time consuming to collect the resin.
Other uses of Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
The blooms make stunning floral arrangements and keep well in the vase. The pods are also beautiful for flower arrangements, they can also be dried for winter arrangements and dried floral projects. Cut the pods off leaving a long stem if possible and hang upside down to dry.
Is it really legal to grow Opium Poppies?
This is a very controversial subject. Some people say yes others no. There are a lot of official sites that state that yes it is legal to grow the poppies (1). Some sources say no.
It's all to do with why you are growing the poppies. For ornamental purposes as a cut flower or for seeds then its perfectly legal to grow them. If however you want to grow them to make opium then the answer is no its not. Even with the DEA the subject is confusing. If you try and grow a whole large field of the poppies then they will come after you since it will be considered you are trying to make drugs. If however you have a few in your backyard because you like flowers then there is no real problem.
Growing poppies was made illegal back in the 1940's (2) but there was a huge turmoil over it since a lot of growers in California grew them for seeds in the bakery industry. The legal battle went on for quite some time and the act was repealed in 1970 (3). Since then its never been reinstated as an illegal crop. However by that time all the California growers had moved on to other things and now most of our poppy seed is imported from Europe.
So now the only people who grow the poppies are gardeners who like the really
pretty flowers. While it is true that you could in theory collect opium from
your plants its not worth the effort. Each plant produces only an extremely
small amount of resin and its extremely time consuming to collect. You would
need acres and acres of poppies to produce any meaningful crop. You would also
need a lot of workers to scratch the poppies and collect the resin. That would
only be economically viable in countries where labor is very cheap or drug lords
can use slave labor. Its not really going to be viable in the US. Besides concealing
a huge field of brightly colored flowers is going to be much harder than some
If you were to grow a huge amount of poppies then its very likely that the DEA would come after you, even if the law is controversial. However growing a few plants in your garden is not going to raise any red flags with anyone.
But it's a dangerous plant right?
In comparison to many other plants that are grown in gardens no not really. The amount of resin produced in one plant is not really very high. You might get a buzz if you ate the whole plant but mature poppy leaves are rather rough and undesirable so its not likely. However keep them away from small children and pets just in case. Bear in mind that there are many many far more dangerous and poisonous plants that are grown in back gardens most often without the homeowner even realizing that they are poisonous poppies are really not dangerous by comparison.
opium poppy plant in flower
while most flowers sold here are light pink some are red
young poppy plant leaves.
opium poppies in our field