The Papaver somniferum is a species of the Papaveraceae family and is commonly named opium poppy or breadseed poppy. The opium poppy is native the south of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The double flowers resemble those of peonies. There are many varieties and colours available. The flowering time is pretty short but there are several buds on the plant that open at different times. This way you can enjoy the flowers a bit longer. The flowers are not fragrant and they do not produce nectar, but the bees and bumblebees like to come to the flowers to collect pollen.
After bloom the seed capsules remain. Those are very characteristic for Papaver. The seed capsules are often used in flower arrangements. The seeds are edible and widely used in amongst others bread, muffins and cakes. When the seeds are ripe the ‘portals’ underneath the ‘hat’ of the capsule open. I cut off the capsules and empty them at a spot in the garden where I want breadseed poppies to grow next year. Just throw them on the ground and leave them as they are. No need to cover them. I pull out the rest of the plant and throw it away because it will wither and look ugly after bloom.
The following spring many new Papaver somniferums emerge to produce beautiful flowers in June and July. You can also collect the seeds and sow them in spring. They germinated better in cool soil, so do not wait too long with sowing in spring. These plants will grow and bloom a little later than if you sow them directly in late summer/autumn.
It is wise to thin out the amount of new plants because they will overgrow each other. Plants that grow too close to each other will be small, weak and produce fewer and much smaller flowers. Because of their sensitive root system they are not easily transplanted.
The breadseed poppy has grey/ green leaves and it prefers a sunny, well drained spot. The opium poppy is very drought tolerant with their fleshy taproot. The stems are sturdy and hardly ever need to be supported.
The Papaver somniferum is used to produce opium for the pharmaceutical industry which is collected from the dried milky sap. These are special Papaver varieties that are bred for this purpose and grown in special and guarded locations. Somniferum comes from Latin and means ‘sleep bringing’ because of the sedative properties of the sap. The amount of active ingredients in the varieties that are bred for ornamental purposes is very low. This is why breadseed poppy is a more suitable name for this ornamental plant than opium poppy.
Attracts bees: yes
Exposure: sun/part shade
Flower colour: various
Flowering time: June – July
Foliage colour: grey
Fragrant flower: no
Hardiness: -20 ºC (-4 ºF)
Height: 3 ft 3 inches (1 m)