Growing Opium Poppies

I have been growing Papaver somniferum var. paeoniflorum (Peony Poppies) for many years. The ones I grow are only decorative. I started by growing some breed seed poppies, but I found them boring.

breadseed poppy
This is one of the Bread Seed Poppies I grew

One of them came back as a Peony Poppy which was pink, and I called it Pink Puffy Poppy.

pink ruffled poppy
This Pink Poppy came from the reseeding of Bread Seed Poppies

I don’t like the name Peony because it is confused with Peonies which are a different plant. Peony poppy is also sometimes called double garden poppy because it produces large, double blooms that typically span 4 to 5 inches across. I replanted the seeds, but it did not come back as a Pink Peony. They may have been pollinated wrong. Then I noticed some red Peony Poppies growing in my neighborhood, so I took a seed pod and I grew red Peony Poppies for a few years.

red poppies
Red Poppies with Earth Machine Compost bins

Someone gave me purple seeds and then I grew the my famous Purple Puffy Poppies. The Purples are even bigger and better than the reds. Sometimes they are more purple and sometimes more black. These are harder to grow then the red ones. The red ones are more easy to get to reseed.

puffy poppy
Purple Peony Poppies

I moved to Ukiah and I bought some seeds for Pink Ones online, but I did not find them as pretty as I hoped. Maybe they did not have enough sun? I grew them in almost full shade due to the summer heat issue in Ukiah.

pink poppies
These pink poppies I got from an online source

This year one of my Poppies came back as an Oriental Poppy that was not a Peony. This may be due to cross-pollination. When you plant Papaver somniferum seeds you never know what kind of flower you will get. They will not take being transplanted. They will probably die if you try. You need to do direct sowing.

red poppy
Papaver orientale, the Oriental poppy

They are not dangerous, and I don’t think even if I made a huge effort I could get any opium from them. Wikipedia says “It is increasingly incorrect to call Papaver somniferum the opium poppy, as many varieties do not produce a significant amount of opium.” And that you need a lab to make them into Opium, and you would need to have several hundred of them in a huge field. They would have to the correct ones, which they do grow in Afghanistan. These decorative ones don’t make enough sap on the pods. Normally if you are making opium, you score the pod and wait and harvest the white sap. I tried these with the Peony Poppies and there was no sap that I could even see. The sap was clear liquid, and not even white and there was so little of it, like almost none. This could also be due to the poor growing conditions in San Francisco, and the lack of hot weather. I don’t score my seed pods, as it ruins the seed pods for the harvesting the seeds for next years flowers. I harvest the seeds and keep in seed envelopes until I want to plant them. In San Francisco I planted them in the spring, but I found out, they don’t like to germinate in hot weather. This year I will plant the seeds as soon as it get cool. It is unfair make these poppies outlaw plants, as they are harmless.

I also planted seeds for Salmon colored ones I bought on eBay, but none germinated. I tried to grow white Peonies, but no luck. I will have some seeds to trade with other gardeners this year again. They do like a rich soil and compost. Dig up your soil very deep. Unlike the smaller California poppies these large plants take up lots of space.

I planted Puffy Poppies in the summer with seeds from my San Francisco Garden, but they did not sprout until winter. This was not so great, and I had a lot of problems, but I finally have some blooming now. The seedling were too crowded. Thinning was not possible with killing most of them. The body count was high, only a few survived. The weather was cold.

Puffy Poppies like to be near others as they lean on each other for support or you can even use garden stakes. They don’t like wind. Wind will even kill or uproot them. You can grow one plant alone with a support if and only if there is no wind in the area. If your house blocks the wind, for example, this may work, otherwise grow them in groups. You have to thin them very carefully. If they are too crowded they are ruined. They like sandy soil and not clay soil. The also like hot sun. I do not believe the are illegal to grow, even the ones that have the most opium are still legal, but its harder to get the seeds for those. I saw some on eBay, but I was not sure if it was scam. I have not seen them in the retail stores. I have been living here to three years, and one thing I noticed if I fall plant they germinate fine, but then they can’t get enough sun to be strong plants.  Planted in the warm season, they will not germinate. They do not like to be transplanted, and normally won’t survive. I think they may require a period of cold to germinate. The flower creates a seed pod, and drops the seeds on the ground. The germination only happens after a period cold. In San Francisco it was always cold in the summer and I grew them all year around. In Ukiah the summers are too hot. I am going to try to stratification by putting them in the refrigerator, because I am not getting the same good results in Ukiah.  They all sprouted in the fall, but then died of too much rain and too much cold made the plants very weak. There are many online directions for the steps to take to make them break dormancy. Our fall weather is nice, and I want to have more of these growing, but pack after pack of seeds is not sprouting.

Updated: I found out that these poppies like to have a cold spell before they germinate. The best time to plant them is as soon as the snow is gone.  January is a good time to plant them if you have no snow. I would have planted some in January, but I had some that naturally came up and now they are about one foot tall. Once you let the seed pods grow to maturity some of the seeds will fall to the ground and then you have a new supply of plants.

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