Oriental Poppy Plant Profile

How to Grow One of the World's Most Lovely Plants

Oriental Poppy field

 

Kogytuk / Getty Images

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.

Botanical Name

Papaver orientale

Common Name Oriental poppy
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial flower
Mature Size 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Fertile, well-drained, with average moisture
Soil pH 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
Native Area West Asia

How to Grow Oriental Poppies

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.

Light

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.

Soil

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.

Water

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.

Fertilizer

Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring. Alternatively, side-dress the soil with compost or manure tea.

Varieties of Oriental Poppy

  • 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
Oriental Poppy Livermere
Oriental Poppy Livermere. Andrew_Howe / Getty Images 
Oriental poppy Princess Victoria Louise
Oriental Poppy Princess Victoria Louise. ​Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images  
Oriental Poppy Patty's Plum
Oriental Poppy Patty's Plum.  JudiDicks / Getty Images 

Toxicity of Oriental Poppy

You have probably bought foods that have poppy seeds, and you 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.

Poppy seeds aside, all other parts of the plant are definitely poisonous (which is why they're deer-proof plants), so you should be cautious about growing Oriental poppies in your yard if there is a chance that children or pets will eat them.

Uses in Landscaping

These plants are a classic for cottage gardens. But regardless of your garden design style, place them somewhere where you can fully appreciate them during their blooming period because Oriental poppy flowers provide a spectacular but brief show. If you are thinking in terms of sequence of bloom when planning a garden, grow them near a plant that reserves its best display for later in the summer. The latter will fill the gaps after your Oriental poppies have disappeared.