Dozens of species belong to the papaver genus, spread a little throughout the globe, particularly in Asia and Europe; all produce the typical flowers, with large, enlarged petals and slender, slightly hairy stems. The most widespread poppies, typical of sunny calcareous soils, even in uncultivated areas, are the papaver roheas, bright red, with a dark, annual heart, which are self-seeding with great ease; widespread in cultivation, even as ornamental plants, i papaver somniferum, annuals, of dark purple color, with a black center, are the poppies from which morphine is obtained for medicinal use, cultivated above all in Afghanistan for the extraction of psychotropic substances, there are hybrid garden species and varieties, with colorful flowers in shades of red and pink.
Among the perennial species it is cultivated in gardens papaver oriental, of which there are very many hybrids, they have very large flowers, and there are hybrids in various shades of colors, in shades of pink, yellow and red, even double and stradoppi. Among the alpine species we mention papaver nudicaule, a typical flower of the European Alps, with white or yellow flowers in nature, there are garden hybrids with pink and orange flowers.
These are herbaceous plants that are easy to cultivate, while perennial species are easily found in nurseries, the annual species are generally sown directly at home, as the roots hardly bear repotting; poppies generally tend to self-seed easily; therefore from year to year we will obtain an increasingly larger spot than these splendid flowers, which bloom throughout the summer, starting from April, until the autumn.
They settle in a sunny place, or even partially shaded, but with a good brightness and at least a few hours a day of direct sunlight; the soil should be well worked before sowing, or a young plant should be planted, but let us avoid adding peat, as these plants love very calcareous, very well drained soils.
We work the soil adding sand, or perlite, water and sow the small dark seeds freely.
Generally these plants well tolerate the common adversities in the garden, such as the heat, the drought, the excesses of watering; they are not plants that need great care, although often, especially with regard to plants bought in nurseries, it is good to water with a certain regularity, avoiding leaving the soil dry for long periods of time.
After flowering the poppies produce a typical semi-woody capsule that contains the seeds, generally it is not removed, as it is decorative, as much as the flowers just bloomed.
When winter comes, the poppy completely dries up, as it fears intense cold; both annual and perennial plants will reappear the following year, with the arrival of spring.
The papaver somniferum
Papaver somniferum, of Asian origin, contains a large amount of alkaloids; from this small decorative plant we get opium, and for this reason it is cultivated in some European countries, to use its active ingredients for therapeutic purposes.
In Asia, and particularly in Afghanistan, it is cultivated illegally to produce heroin, in very large quantities, especially in the most remote rural areas of the area.
The production of opium is obviously restricted and regulated by strict laws, not the cultivation of papaver somniferum, of which cultivation there is no prohibition; It is therefore strictly forbidden to extract opium from poppies, but not to cultivate them, also because it is necessary to have a poppy plantation to obtain opium in quantity, while from a flowerbed of papaver somniferum it is not possible to obtain substantial quantities of opium such as to make it forbidden the cultivation of such plants.
If we then see some interesting seeds of papaver somniferum, we can easily sow them in the front garden, without fearing to commit illegal acts.
Poppy - Papaver: Variety poppy
In addition to the papaver genus, other plants are called poppies; surely very famous are the Californian poppies, small perennial of American origin, belonging also to the family of the papaveraceae, but to the genus eschscholttzia, the common name is escolzia.
These are perennials of small size, to be cultivated by sowing them directly in the house, even as annuals in pots or in a sunny place in the garden; they do not have great needs and many hybrid varieties are found, with flowers from yellow to orange, from white to pink.
Very famous are also the poppies of the Himalayas, or blue poppies; they too belong to the papaveraceae, but in the genus meconopsis, of which only one species is native to Wales, the others all come from the Himalayan areas; given the places of origin, the meconopsis are not very easy to cultivate, especially the Himalayan species, which need a decidedly cooler climate than that of sunny Italy. However, there are blue poppy hybrids that are slightly more tolerant of heat, which can be successfully grown in our gardens.