Name: Papaver somniferum aka the breadseed poppy or the opium poppy. Of the two common names, beadseed poppy is the most accurate for gardeners since we are growing this plant for its ornamental value, not for the latex that drug companies value.
Type of Plant: An annual poppy that is valued for gardeners as a striking, ornamental flower that blooms in late June and early July. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean but has naturalized across Asia and Europe. On an agricultural level it’s grown for poppy seeds – the ones on your bagels and in poppy seed muffins and cakes. It’s also used by the pharmaceutical industry for making opium and other drugs.
Why I Love/Hate this plant: Once you’ve grown these poppies, it’s hard not to throw a party every late June when they’re in flower. I love them because you never know what colors and forms will show up. I love them because from the minute the buds form and the color of the petals peek out from the green, hairy “hats,” these plants put on a show. I love how the stamens are a dark gray, black or purple, and the bees go into a pollen frenzy when the flowers are fertile. I love how they flower early in the summer when other perennials are just waking up. And I love how you can share the seeds with other gardeners, as Chris Hestwood did when she gave some to me from her Nantucket garden.
A Word to the Wise: This is not a plant for those who want to put something in the ground and have it return reliably year after year, or bloom all summer. This is an annual, and so you never know what is going to come up from year to year, and you have to remove the old stems in mid-July because they are done and brown by then.
Additionally, if you want these every year you can’t mulch since the seeds need light to germinate. So you’ll need to recognize the emerging seedlings in May and remove all the weed seeds around them. In short, this is not a plant for those who want to plant-it-and-forget-it. But it is an annual poppy for those who love large, outrageous flowers in a variety of colors.