Opium Poppies
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Michael Jordan Halbert
Posted on: March 27, 2001

Could you please tell me more about the ‘Opium Poppy’, seeds you’re selling, such as: flower colour, size, type, time and duration of flowering, planting and growing conditions.

The flowers of the white-seeded variety are white and purplish. The blue-seeded variety are similar with perhaps a little less white.

Opium poppies are happy in full sun and in most soils, including every type from clay to sandy-loam, though sandy-loam is probably the most preferred soil type. The typical sowing rate is 3 kg/hectare, or 3 grams per 100 square feet. In southern Ontario (zone 4-6), the seeds are sown in mid to late May. Germination takes 5-20 days, and when the seedlings are 5cm - 7.5cm (2-3 inches) high they are thinned out 20-25cm (8-10 inches) apart.

Flowering commences in August and individual flowers last three days. Plants reach 60-90cm (2-3 feet) in height.

What is the difference in the white seeded versus blue seeded plants?.

The main difference is the seed colour.

I’ve been told that this is the ‘bread seed’ poppy. What’s the latin variety name of each?

"Blue poppyseed" and "breadseed poppy" are several common names for the blue-seeded variety. In Europe, the blue-seeded type is also known as "maw". The latin name for the blue-seeded variety is Papaver somniferum nigrum, and for the white-seeded variety, P. somniferum glabrum.

We’d be planting in the Toronto area or on the shore of Lake Simcoe. When should we sow?

Sow in mid May.

I believe poppy seeds are very tiny. How do we thin them?

See above.

Why is the white seeded variety a biennial while the blue is annual?

Both varieties are annuals.

How big a garden do you need for a strong visual effect?

Opium poppies are very beautiful, but they are not breed for a long-lasting show. As mentioned, the flowers are relatively short-lived and you can expect flowers to come and go over a few weeks period. A patch of 50-100 square feet will give a nice effect, and you can expand from there as much as you want.

Finally, I suppose they’re legal if you’re selling them. Correct?

It is certainly legal to possess and use opium poppy seeds. They are widely used in North America, particularly for bagels and other pastries. To grow opium poppies is probably edging into a grey area in law in Canada. Technically, it may in fact be illegal to grow them, but they are so widely grown as ornamentals and so widely used for spice uses that we have never heard of anyone encountering problems growing them. But to be absolutely sure, you should consult your lawyer for advice. Neither of the blue-seeded and white-seeded forms are grown for narcotic purposes; they are varieties specific for spice use.

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