I grow two kinds of annual poppies: corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and opium poppies (Papaver somniferum). Both kinds have self-sown moderately in my previous garden, but neither transplants easily. If you even manage to get a poppy to grow after it’s been moved, it is never the vigorous plant you get when you leave them in place. In the case of corn poppies, I have grown the typical red with a black blotch in the center, and also various riffs on Shirley poppies. But in the past, the Shirley poppies have always been mixed colors. Last year a gardening acquaintance had given me some corn poppy seed, and when it bloomed, it was all the same glowing shade of pink. I wanted to make sure I had that next year!Several years ago, I had been given some double pink opium poppy seeds from a generous reader. I’m ashamed to say I had almost lost this variety, but had marked and saved the seed from a lone poppy growing at the old house. (When a poppy is double like this, it is sometimes called peony poppy, Papaver paeoniflorum, but according to Wikipedia it is just a form of opium poppy.) And then there is Lauren’s Grape, a deep purple opium poppy. I originally got my seeds from Botanical Interests(aff link), and I fell in love with this poppy. Then one year Botanical Interests didn’t have this seed due to a crop failure, and I realized I’d better not count on seed companies to preserve my favorite varieties. Fortunately, many of them self-sowed, and I wound up sending some of my seed to Botanical Interests.
Collecting Poppy Seed
Collecting poppy seed is easy. Get a paper bag. (Plastic bags hold moisture in.) Get a pair of scissors or hand pruners. Find the seed heads which have opened, like this:When their little “windows” are open, that shows that the seed is ripened. Hold the stem upright as you snip it, and don’t tip it sideways until it’s over your open bag, otherwise the seeds will spill on the ground. I usually just throw the seed head into the bag and remove it later, in the interests of saving time.
There were a couple of problems with this method:
- Almost all the plants had stopped blooming, so I didn’t know which was which, and
- Most of the seed heads were not yet fully ripened
I solved the first problem by carefully looking over the plants for wilted but still attached blossoms, or a bud that I could pry open. Since the two species of poppy are easy to distinguish (one’s hairy, one’s not; one has U-shaped pods and one has O-shaped pods–click on the first image to see examples), I only had to differentiate between the pink peony poppy and Lauren’s Grape. Even wilted or in cold-damaged bud, those two are easy to tell apart.As for the plants that had no flowers remaining, I just put them all in a bag labeled Mixed Poppies. Hopefully next year I will remember to mark them.
The second problem may not be solved. Because winter will be here soon–we had snow flurries the day after I collected seed–I couldn’t wait any longer to collect them. So, ripe or not, I put them all the seed heads in the bag. I am hoping that at least some of them will finish ripening in their bags. I’m not certain they will–but what have I got to lose? I am very certain they won’t finish ripening outdoors!
Eventually I will pour the contents of each bag into a box lid (the kind gifts come in, without any cracks or seams) and pick out the debris, then re-package the seed into a coin envelope. But that can wait until some blowy, snowy day when I want to do something garden-related indoors. For now, it’s on to the next now-or-never fall chore!