Peony poppies

by Kathy Purdy on July 31, 2007 · 30 comments

in Plant info

Peony poppy from 2003

My favorite pink. If you grow it, could I have seeds?

Of all the species in the Papaver genus, I think I like peony poppies the best. Perhaps you know them by a different name, for they are also called lettuce leaf poppies, bread seed poppies, and opium poppies. Yes, that opium.

I was just reading about them on Wikipedia and discovered they have sub-groups. I prefer the ones that actually look like peonies, such as the soft pink pictured at left. Unfortunately, I no longer have that one. If you ever see it being sold or have some seed of it you can share, please get in touch.

Coral peony poppy, laciniata type

This is the one I’m growing now, and I don’t like it as much

The one I’m growing now was sold to me as a pink peony-flowered poppy, but this is really from what the Wikipedia article calls the Laciniatum group, “whose flowers are highly double and deeply lobed, to the point of looking like a ruffly pompon.” I don’t want a pompon, and I don’t want coral pink! But try telling that to a catalog copywriter.

You can deadhead these poppies for longer bloom

Cut here on a breadseed poppy stem to encourage more bloom.

Cut here (click to enlarge)

These poppies are annuals, but on a well-grown peony poppy, the blossom can be just as large as the perennial Oriental poppy, and they bloom later than their perennial cousins. And most people don’t seem to know that you can deadhead peony poppies to get rebloom. Follow the stem of the spent bloom down to the first set of leaves and cut the stem just above those leaves. In many cases you can see the incipient flower bud forming where the leaf attaches to the stem:
The new bud on an opium poppy forms in the leaf axil.

The black arrow points to the small flower bud in the leaf axil. (click to enlarge)

Are they illegal?

I know, hearing them called opium poppies made you a bit nervous, didn’t it? The Wikipedia article that I referred to earlier said that low-morphine varieties are definitely legal. If you buy seeds of breadseed poppies, I think you can be certain you are getting a low-morphine variety. As for the more decorative varieties, if Michael Pollan is correct, ignorance is bliss. Don’t ask, don’t tell. If someone wants to know what they are, they are peony poppies (Papaver paeoniflorum) or (sigh) laciniate poppies (Papaver laciniatum)–and aren’t they beautiful?

How to sow them and grow them

They do best when direct sown. Most gardeners can sow in late fall, and they will sprout in late winter and be ready for business shortly after your bona fide peonies are done blooming. I can sometimes get away with that, but often the seedlings don’t make it. I usually try sowing in late winter or early spring, catching the last dreary snowfall or at least a good hard frost. They seem to need cold to germinate.

They like rich garden soil and plenty of room. The best ones are always those that have been thinned to–okay, I don’t really know how far apart is ideal. All I know is I never thin them enough. I always think, “What if this is one of my long-lost beautiful pink ones?” I try for 6 inches apart but I think it should be more, maybe even double that. Does anyone out there have a good rule of thumb?

It’s not seed buying time, and I hope you don’t forget these when you start flipping through catalogs. But I wanted to tell you about these now, so those of you already growing them don’t miss out on the extra bloom that comes from deadheading. They are the only poppies I know that you can deadhead, so take advantage of it.


Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy's been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

To visit a garden properly is a demanding business; most visitors simply don't have the time.
Brian Bixley, Essays on Gardening in a Cold Climate

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori July 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I have the pink peony poppies. My question is whether I can deadhead them while the seed pod is still green and get quality seed to grow or do I have to wait to cut them when the seeds are already mature?


Kathy Purdy July 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I always harvest seed when the pod is dry and brown and the holes at the top have opened. I don’t know if the seed will mature if the pods are cut when green.


Margaret UK June 17, 2012 at 3:55 am

Pink peony poppies have just started to bloom in my garden.
I wasn’t sure what they were at first, until I read your info.
The seeds were from annual oriental poppies and wild red ones too.
Suspect some sort of cross breeding has taken place somewhere in the pollination stage!
Any way they are a joy to behold.
I will definitely be dead heading as you recommended.
Thank you for sharing.


linda September 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I didnt know you could deadhead them! nice!


tibby canfield July 27, 2011 at 8:19 am

I started seeds inside this April. They transplanted beautifully!
I put a few in pots. They too, did well.
So…can’t hurt to try.


richard June 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm

hi i believe i have the pink peony variety in our garden which has just come out in bloom.only just found out which type they are from your picture .thank you.


Rachel Campbell April 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Have you visited for your pale pink poppy? They have a variety listed as lavender that looks very similar to what you are looking for. Good luck!


ginger harper November 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Thankyou so much for the info!
Im getting married and want to keep cost down by getting my mother to grow yes grow my flower!
We have chosen the peony rose but these poppies are darling!
My mum lives in a very cold part of new zealand so i think she could grow these successfully with the peony rose!
Do you know how well the poppies will do as a cut flower? or in pots?
And when,where who and who is the best to get seeds? and will i have problems with sending seeds overseas?


Kathy Purdy November 11, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Hi, Ginger–they are not good as cut flowers. I think they would do well in pots but you would have to direct sow the seed as they don’t like being disturbed at all. And so you would have to time it just right as each flower only lasts a day or two.


John Shortland January 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Kings garden centre (Katikati) have a whole range of peony poppy. I have just ordered a black one. Will see how it goes. If you want to force them, keep the seed in the fridge for a month or so before scattering the seed. If you keep the seed you may have to hand pollinate to get true colours. Bees don’t care.You will get tens of thousand seeds off a few plants. Good luck


rosaleebridge May 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I definitely want some pink poppy seeds-I will buy them if available.


Kathy Purdy May 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I don’t sell them. You need to look on eBay or one of the seed companies for them.


Tammy May 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Hi I have a few pink poppie seeds, email me your snail mail address and I will send you some. my email is I will give them to you if you promise to send me a picture after they bloom :) Please type in Poppies seeds in the subject line when sending me an email thanks


Jie July 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I have these poppies in deep red in the middle of my flower bed. I love how tall the stems grow. I don’t know how my dad did it but he transplanted them from a friend. I’m hoping to get some in the pink variety for next year.


Kathy Purdy April 10, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I wonder if they are the Oriental poppies.


Jeff July 22, 2008 at 5:53 am

I believe we have the light pink poppy you are seeking, we had a banner year here in Iowa. Must have been all the rain? We live on a century farm here and the peony poppies were here 50 years ago from our Aunt. We are in the process of saving seeds and willing to share with you. We also took photos this year and can email you a few pictures.
Look forward to hearing from you


Kathy Purdy July 9, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Chris, they don’t transplant well at all, so everyone grows them from seed sown directly in the garden. I doubt you will find plants for sale anywhere.


chris July 9, 2008 at 10:03 am

i have trouble finding them at nurseries..they just don’t carry them…where can i get live plants?? i live in Oregon west of Eugene


Tammy September 14, 2007 at 8:54 am

You quoted “I prefer the ones that actually look like peonies, such as the soft pink pictured at left. Unfortunately, I no longer have that one. If you ever see it being sold or have some seed of it you can share, please get in touch.” email me If you found them already, I may know where you can get them


jojobaaa April 10, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I am looking at a pack of peony poppies right now and it says to plant them 24″ apart.


Kathy Purdy April 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I don’t think I would sow the seed 24″ apart, but that might be a good spacing to thin them to.


layanee August 7, 2007 at 8:50 pm

More for ‘the list’! I have always loved the way they look in others’ gardens but have yet to grow them! Thanks for the info.


Tim August 7, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Your reference to opium makes me laugh, we recently found a marjiana plant growing in our newly acquired house’s front yard in Colorado. My father suggested we just let things grow the first year to see what came up … what a surprise.
Glad to have found someone else dealing with cooler climes.


kate August 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm

These are gorgeous poppies. Thank you for the growing info – I think I will add some to my garden next year!

Thanks too for the book. It is a good read …


Kathy Purdy August 2, 2007 at 12:53 pm

jodi–I acquired the pink one through the North American Cottage Garden Society (which has since disbanded) seed exchange. The gardener donating the seed said it was a deep pink Oriental poppy and the seed had been obtained from Australia.


LostRoses August 1, 2007 at 11:28 pm

I definitely would like to have some of these and hope I remember next spring!


jodi August 1, 2007 at 8:34 am

I have red ones, pink ones, almost black ones, some that are slightly tinted with other colour from cross pollinating (I assume.) They freerange everywhere, but I don’t have the pale pink variety you show–mine is a deeper pink and mostly single, but the big red and wine ones are all peony-poppies. We also call them lettuce poppies here in case any neurotic types from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are around. How absurd some bureacrats and bureacracies are!


Pam/Digging July 31, 2007 at 9:30 pm

I love the seedheads as much as the flowers. A neighbor grows them in her garden, and every year I think, I must try some in mine. But I always forget. Maybe next year . . .


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