Photo: oindypoind (Flickr)
The orange oriental poppy (Papaver orientalis) is a drought tolerant, old fashioned staple in our perennial gardens. New cultivars have been developed so that there are now also pinks, lavenders, maroons, and whites. The plants grow 2-3 feet tall with hairy leaves, showy blossoms, and magnificent seed pods. However, new plants do not come true from cultivar seeds.
Also the plants die down after their magnificent early summer display, so are often combined with Baby’s breath or other perennials that bloom later and fill in their vacated spots. Perennial poppies resent being transplanted, so they need to be sited thoughtfully. The delicate Iceland poppies are biennials and it is best to sow their seeds in late summer for bloom the following year. Scarlet Flanders poppies (P.rhoeas), also called corn poppies, are annuals.
Another annual, the opium poppy (P.somniferum), also known as the lettuce leaf poppy, has flowers that are usually pink or mauve, but occasionally can be red or white. During ancient times, the milky nectar of the opium poppy, provided the only available relief for excruciating pain, and its effects have been noted since the time of Homer.
Helen of Troy calmed witnesses of the horrors of the Trojan War with a drink made of wine and opium. Pliny advised coating black poppy seeds with egg to fix them to the crusts of baked goods. While the Romans used opium for some less than benign purposes, it took centuries before opium was recognized as an addictive substance.