Saturday, March 29, 2014

(Shhh! It's the opium poppy)

 (Shhh! It's the opium poppy)

Papaver somniferum

2ft x 2 ft, erect oval growth. Late spring/early summer blooms in red, white, pink, or purple. Rich, deep, slightly alkaline soil with moderate moisture. Full sun or afternoon shade. Illegal to grow in some states, may be illegal to sell or buy seeds in other states. Cocaine production illegal everywhere.

March 5. The first day. Seeds sown in ProMix, watered from below, sealed in a plastic bag, and placed in the dark overnight. 

March 6. Pack was moved to a dormer window with bright, indirect light in a warm room. 

March 9. Sprouts appear. The bag was opened for about 2 hours, then sealed again.

Oh, no. I really over seeded. The thin, weak seedlings are elbowing each other for breathing room. Worse, there are spots of white fuzz at soil level. Could they be mildew or fungus? I consulted with WV Sprout, and her Shirley poppies had the same fuzzy spots. I examined mine with a magnifying glass that I keep handy (old eyes), and she looked at hers with normal eyes (no comment). The fuzz seemed to be thin white hairs on the stems of only the younger seedlings. So we decided to wait and see what happened.

Spooked by the false alarm, I decided to tent the pack with the bag split halfway up on both sides, giving cross ventilation. This arrangement also made more head room for the shockingly fragile seedlings.

March 15. Removed tent and moved pack to a sunnier window. Two days later thinned seedlings by cutting some at soil level. Continued to water from bottom as needed.

The seedlings didn't seem to be growing much and were a tangled mess. I decided to thin them by cutting some with pointed manicure scissors. The GCA manual suggests doing this when transplanting if seedlings are too crowded, but I wanted to see what would happen. I thinned 3 of the most crowded sections and left 3 as they were.

Before thinning.  Upper sections very crowded.

After thinning.

March 22. Placed pack under grow light placed 6" above. Timer set for 16" hours on, 8 hours off.

No real growth in several days, although some seedlings now have first set of real leaves. WV Sprout gave me a plant light bulb, so the pack now has consistent, full spectrum light. I put a piece of white poster board behind the pack to get reflected light, hoping the extra boost would help the puny seedlings to duke it out. Kind of like a neo-natal ward for seedlings.

White reflects full spectrum light, potentially doubling light source.

April 21.  Seedlings haven't grown much in height but are more upright and look sturdier.  A few have also put out the second set of true leaves.  

WV Sprout did further research on poppy cultivation and found out they like cool temperatures.  Since I  was leaving in two days for a week and a half,  I decided to wean the seedlings from indoor pampering.  I decided to plant only three of the cells and take the other three to another sprout for her garden. 

Since the seedlings still had weak stems, I didn't want to divide them.  I decided to put a whole cell in each of in three different  sunny places in my flower border.  However, when I tipped the cells into my hand, two broke in half, so I ended up with five clusters of poppies.  They looked so vulnerable in the open ground---defenseless against both my feet and a deer's mouth. How could I go to New York without adding some kind of security?  So I put them under the protection of an Irish Spring tepee.  

Irish Spring Tepee:  stick structure holding a wedge
of soap in nylon stocking. Two small seedlings underneath.

As I write this, I'm in Brooklyn, hoping my little poppies are surviving life on their own.

May 17.  Results of three plantings under tepees: seedlings of one tepee are gone, those of another had disappeared but last week reappeared, and those of the last tepee have grown and look vigorous.  The Irish Spring fortifications will remain for now.

I'm hoping one planting might do well enough to produce seed in time for the seed exchange. All three tepees will be left standing, just in case the disappeared seedlings return.  Interestingly, a few bloggers reported that seeds given up as failures have sprouted long after their projected germination dates. 

 Note: the outdoor sowing of Shirley poppies is much more successful.  The weather fluctuations, very cold and rainy days alternating with very hot and humid ones, hasn't bothered them. They're in a raised bed with loose soil and  full sun exposure.  

July 16, 2014.  One of the three plantings has survived.  There are two plants in the area, one 22" tall and vigorous, the other 6" tall and weak.  The vigorous one has lush, silver-gray foliage; blooms appeared about two weeks ago.  The tepee was removed six weeks ago, with no deer damage so far.

Oh, joy!  While not successful in quantity, the poppy project outcome makes me happy.  The one surviving poppy plant is magnificent, at least in my eyes.  Each bloom doesn't last more than a couple of days before starting to decline, and I envisioned bright red blooms, but that's OK.  The pink flowers are very lovely, and their ephemeral nature inspires me to visit daily.  I'm planning on sowing seed outdoors--early in spring--next year.

          Poor color quality in this cell phone photo. The bloom is really a lovely, delicate pink.  

July 29, 2014.  There are blooms every few days, but each bloom doesn't more than 3 days or so.  Seed pods form quickly and don't seem to interfere with continued blooming. 

I wish I had lots of these intriguing plants.  The foliage is striking and not bothered by our drastic weather, which has ricocheted from near 90 degrees to 60 every couple of weeks.  The  flower petals are like little wings of  silk, but they last only a short while.  The most I've seen at one time is 4.  

Unripened seed heads hold a long time, adding visual interest.
August 23, 2012.  The first seed head ripened two weeks ago.  A few others have done so since, but there are several unripe ones on the plant.   When approaching ripeness, pods turn grey. The top section rises when seed is ready to drop.   Straight stems hold firm pods upright, and, if cut carefully, pods can be harvested with the loss of only a few seeds. 
(Note on Shirley poppies: much smaller pods, same method of lid opening. Seeds are like dust!)

The pods took so long to mature, I thought  I'd never get seeds in time for the Meniece workshop.  I started checking every day,  and suddenly I noticed one pod had a raised lid.  The "umbrella spokes" section had lifted to make open spaces, like windows, above the pod's body.  When I tipped it, seeds fell out.  So this was the dispersal mechanism of the opium poppy.  Now that I knew what to look for, I was able to harvest several pods. This one plant is sending lots of seeds to California!

Pod on the left is mature, with open spaces at the top. 
Pod on the right is not mature.  Three seeds are also pictured.

August, 2014. Final Report.  Blooms have become scarce, and foliage is dying.  Seeds have been collected and will be packaged for sharing at the Shirley Meniece Workshop.

This was a great project. Although I had sown seeds often in my gardening past, I had never collected them.  Nor was my education limited to my specific chosen plant. The experience taught me to look closely at a different stage of plant life, a stage I had more or less taken for granted. I learned how varied are the ways plants form and protect their seeds, how patient we must be to discover each plant's propagation techniques, and how astonishing a cycle there is in nature.  From seeds as elusive as dust to seeds as big as walnuts, each plant has its own patented method for continuing life.  And all this is open to us if we pay attention,  follow nature's path, and gently help. 

All this---and it's so much fun!

June 10, 2015 (posted by WV Sprout)

Guess what showed up in my yard this spring! After thinking I would not try the poppy again as I did not have any luck last year I had a huge surprise.  Several of the poppies have shown up both in my vegetable garden area and in a second area where I threw out seeds.  I have several that have flourished - with beautiful blooms.  I am delighted and can grow them after all.  Certainly not the abundance that are seen in cooler, less humid areas, but they are here.  I will let a few go to seed hoping for more and save seeds to share with the others.  I thought this one particularly beautiful as it is a great contrast against the red of my tomato cages. 

Lovely color!

June 27, 2015 (by WV Sprout)

Everything seems to be early this year.  Not even July 1 and my poppies have bloomed, set seed heads and ready to harvest.  Looks like plenty to share with Seed Share and with our Hort Committee.  In addition to MAMSprout's post and photos from last year, I found this site that I liked:
Cold Climate Gardening: Collecting Poppy Seeds.
You can see the windows in the
seed pod in the background with
the windows popped up.
I wound up just snipping the pod off and carrying inside.  What a wonderful miracle of nature to create such a unique way of distributing seeds.  I love the little "windows" that open up.  Instead of using a paper bag as they suggest in the "Cold Climate" blog, I just put the pod on a piece of white paper and shook.  LOTS of seeds from just one pod and many more in the garden still to come!

Here is a closeup.
Seeds popping out with just a jiggle of the paper.

All of this from just one!



  1. Would love an update on your poppies as mine are not doing very well. Your photos above show much healthier plants than what I have.

  2. I like your teepee! Expecting rain the next two days. I did the same with mine and they fell apart in my hands, too. Not much left of them. Waiting to see what happens to the ones I sowed direct into the garden.

  3. Can't wait to see - the color looks lovely! Congrats on your success.

  4. MAM Sprot. I have just updated my blog with a picture of my poppies. Please look at ir or make house call. I do not know whether the flowers are Shirley or opium.

  5. Mam Sprout - Thanks for sharing your expertise with all of us! It is "so much fun!"

  6. I have poppies blooming this year! What a surprise and they are beautiful. Look at the color on this one.

  7. Collected seeds today from my poppies.