Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) are herbaceous perennial flowers with large, brightly colored blooms featuring petals reminiscent of crepe paper. These plants are grown mainly for their flowers, although they also bear attractive foliage in spring. They are just one of the various types of poppies, a group of plants known for its contributions in the areas of crafts, medicine, food, and landscaping.
The most commonly found Oriental poppy flowers are orange (for example, 'Prince of Orange') and red (for example, 'Livermere'). But many cultivars exist, offering a variety of colors. The blossom petals usually sport a dark blotch at their base. The large buds nod down at first, but they raise their heads as the flowers unfurl.
The big, thistle-like leaves of Oriental poppy are downy, deeply-lobed, and rich green in color, offering aesthetic value in their own right. The leaves are tightly packed, and the flower stems are stiff and hairy, making Oriental poppy a good cut flower. The pods that succeed the flowers also have an ornamental quality and are dried for crafts.
When planting poppies, be aware that the aboveground growth dies back in summer, when the plant goes dormant. This can leave gaps in your planting bed, so plant around the flowers accordingly. Poppies are typically grown from seed planted in spring or fall. They are fast growers (and fast bloomers), sprouting up in a matter of days once the weather warms in spring. Their glorious blooms are spectacular but brief, then the entire plant begins dying back, its show concluded for the season.
|Common Name||Oriental poppy|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial flower|
|Mature Size||1 to 3 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Fertile, well-drained, medium moisture|
|Soil pH||Neutral (6.5 to 7.0)|
|Bloom Time||Spring to early summer|
|Flower Color||Orange, red, pink, purple, white, peach, maroon, salmon|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 9 (USDA)|
Oriental Poppy Plant Care
Indigenous to elevated lands in western Asia, Oriental poppy has naturalized in parts of North America that have cold winters. A cold-hardy plant that dislikes high heat and humidity, this perennial needs cold temperatures in winter and, consequently, fares poorly for the most parts south of planting zone 8.
Apply mulch around Oriental poppies for the first couple of years for winter protection. Most varieties are clump-forming. It's best to propagate them by seed rather than by transplanting because the clumps like to be left alone. Some growers stake the plants, especially in areas subject to high winds.
Give your Oriental poppies full sun. Not only will this promote better flowering, but it will also reduce the chances of a powdery mildew infestation, which is a potential problem with these plants.
Grow Oriental poppy in a well-drained soil enriched with compost. It prefers neutral to slightly acid pH. Root rot can occur in soil that does not drain well.
During the blooming period (starting when the bud forms), give Oriental poppy 1 inch of water per week. Otherwise, water when the soil is dry, but do not overwater, especially during dormancy.
Temperature and Humidity
Oriental poppy will grow in any normal temperature and humidity conditions within planting zones 3 to 7. Some cultivars are labeled for zones up to 9, but generally, the plant does not prefer high heat and humidity.
Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring. Alternatively, side-dress the soil with compost or manure tea.
Is Oriental Poppy Toxic?
You have probably bought foods that have poppy seeds and may wonder if you could harvest the seeds from your own Oriental poppies and reproduce that flavor. However, the poppy seeds used in cuisine typically come from opium poppy plants (Papaver somniferum). The seeds of your P. orientale may or may not be edible, but don't expect them to taste like the poppy seeds you enjoy on that favorite bagel at the coffee shop.
Papaver somniferum and many other poppy plants are toxic, some highly toxic, so it is assumed that Papaver orientale is also toxic, and none of the plant should be ingested. According to the North Carolina State Extension service, Papaver orientale has low-severity toxicity characteristics, and all parts of the plant may be poisonous, including the juice.
Oriental Poppy Varieties
- Papaver orientale 'Livermere': Also called 'Beauty of Livermere'; scarlet red flower; 2 to 3 feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
- Papaver orientale 'Bolero': Purple-red flower with purple eyes; 1 to 2 feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
- Papaver orientale 'Fireball': Bright orange, semi-double or double blooms; compact, at only 1 foot tall; hardiness zones 3 to 9
- Papaver orientale 'Princess Victoria Louise': Large (6- to 8-inch) salmon-pink blooms; 2 to 3 feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
- Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum': Heavily textured, plum-colored blooms; 2 to 3 feet tall; hardiness zones 3 to 8
Propagating Oriental Poppies
Poppies can be divided and may need to have this done once about every five years if the plantings become too crowded. Division can be a little challenging, due to the plant's deep taproot. It's best to do this in late summer, well after the blooms have passed and the plant has entered dormancy.
Carefully dig up the entire plant clump, digging deep to get below the long taproots. Divide the clump by cutting vertically through the root mass so that each portion has one or more eyes plus some taproot and stem. Plant the sections so their tops are 3 inches below the soil line.
How to Grow Oriental Poppies From Seed
Direct sowing is the standard method for growing Oriental poppies. The seeds need cold to germinate, so most gardeners sow the seeds in fall, when the soil has cooled after the heat of late summer. If you miss the fall plating, you can sow seeds in spring, about one month before the last frost.
Rake the soil so it is smooth and free of rocks. Scatter the seeds, then cover them very lightly with soil; they need some sunlight for germination. And that's all you need to do. Nature takes care of the rest. When the snow melts and the ground warms up in spring, the seeds will germinate and begin their growth. Be sure to mark the planting area because you won't see the plants for many months, and you might forget where to put them.