Poppies - Papaver roheas

Poppies - Papaver roheas

Introduction to the genus of poppies

“But in another thought then Elena entered. In the sweet wine, of which they drank, a drug infused against crying and anger, and that oblivion induced with it all labor and care ". Thus reads a verse from Homer's Odyssey, which focuses on this nepente, an infusion obtained through the use of poppy seeds, a sign that the knowledge of this plant is very ancient. Usually, the name of poppy indicates all those species that belong to the Papaver genus, as well as others that are referable to the Papaveraceae family (mainly distributed in the temperate and subtropical areas of the northern hemisphere).

Species and geographical spread

The Papaver genus, however, includes about a hundred species of grasses (in rare cases they are suffrutics, that is to say the perennials that are characterized by their wood base) of various types, annual, biennial or, in most part of the cases, perennial. The geographical spread is very varied and ranges from some alpine or cold areas to Europe, Asia and Boreal Africa, and even southern Africa and Australia. The typical plants of the genus are bristly and endowed with latex, with lobed or dissected leaves; the flowers, on the other hand, are hermaphroditic, showy, solitary on long peduncles, with splendid reclining buds. The pistil is unique and a radiated and persistent disc brings together all the stigmas. The poppy fruit also deserves a mention, often exploited for therapeutic purposes, but not only, since it is a capsule with pores located immediately under the disc. Poppy seeds are also well known, very small in size and which come to maturity when they are projected outside following the oscillations of the long peduncle, oscillations obviously caused by the wind.

The "Italian" poppies

It must be said, in this sense, that our flora includes only four species, the most common of which is Papaver rhoeas, also called "Poppy of the fields" or "Rosolaccio": the plant in question, annual herb and branchy, it is twenty centimeters up to one meter high and is very common in uncultivated places and between crops (especially in wheat). As already mentioned, the poppy is also used in folk medicine. Another widespread species is the so-called Papaver hybridum, also annual, of fields, walls and road embankments. Italy, on the other hand, can boast the beautiful Papaver alpinum, which is found in the Alpine area of ​​the Alps and Abruzzo: it is a perennial plant and of small stature, while the corolla enlivens the whole with its characteristic white or yellow-orange. Southern Italy, then, is rich in Papaver somniferum, the so-called "opium poppy": it is an annual plant with a little branched stem, whose height can even exceed one meter, characterized by large thermal flowers, white or pink ( the original cultivation, in this case, is from Asia Minor and it is thanks to its condensed latex that real opium is obtained).

Poppies around the world

Some species of the Papaver genus are even cultivated for ornamental purposes. Following some crossings and selections, ornamental cultivars of Papaver roehas have been obtained such as Shirley Single Mixed, with white, pink, salmon and crimson flowers, and Shirley Double Mixed, with flowers with double number of petals. These plants are very suitable for the rock garden, forming characteristic borders next to bushes of daisies, ageratum, lobelia, liatris and tagetes. In case they were to be cut, these flowers would have no shelf life in any type of vase. For the same cut flower, in fact, Papaver nudiculae is cultivated, also known as the Iceland poppy, despite its real origin is from Siberia, the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Tibet, of Afghanistan and the Himalayas. The particular name of the species derives from the fact that it has several radical rosette leaves, of an intense light green and carried by slender petioles.


The corolla is made up of four petals, two of which are smaller and two with a larger diameter and white in color. The seeds germinate in this case in fifteen days: after a month, then, the seedling, which has four different leaves, is transplanted into the home, so it will continue to swell and emit leaves. Moreover, after four months from sowing, the buds appear which swell and open: once the stems have been collected, they can be immersed for a few seconds in boiling water, in order to stop the latex from escaping and extend the life of the cut flower. .

Poppies: Ornamental Curiosities

Papaver somniferum is also really interesting for its exclusive cultivation use. In fact, this plant can be easily grown in any type of garden; among other things, there are various double-flowered species (such as Pink Chiffon, for example) with bright and exciting colors, such as light pink, very pleasing to the eye. The stems, in this case, are up to one meter high, and are the most suitable solution to create and reinvigorate flower beds among the most imposing trees such as magnolias or conifers with a prostrate bearing.

There is a song, sung by Nilla Pizzi in '52, now widespread in our country, which reads the exact words: "Do you know that poppies are tall tall tall…?". Yes but which poppies? If some varieties in fact reach the 80-90 cm, others are “smaller”, capable of reaching the maximum i 20-30 cm in height. Certainly, the poppy is above all known in the collective imagination for its own beautiful goblet-shaped flowers in shades of orange, yellow, red, pink, cream and white.

Poppy flower

There are about 80 species of these beautiful annuals and perennials, belonging to the family of Papaveraceae, present in the summer flower beds and borders. The most cultivated remains the p. red, together with p. of California, but in the medical field the p. somniferum, from which, after a long series of operations, opium and its derivatives (including heroin and morphine) are produced.

Red poppy

The Papaver rhoeas it is an annual herbaceous plant widely spread in Italy, which normally grows in fields and on the edges of roads and railways. It is considered one weed. Has concave flowers, deep red, often spotted with black at the base, which appear in summer. Exist cultivar with double red flowers, but which can be white or pink.

The famous "Shirley poppy”Are a selection of this species, with single or double flowers, in various colors. The petals and seeds have mild sedative properties. It can reach the 90 cm in height. Their flowering takes place from May to September.

the typical red flowers of papaver rhoeas.

California poppy

Heschscholzia californica, this is the botanical name of California poppy, cultivated for its beautiful cup-shaped flowers with bright colors, especially in shades of yellow and orange. It prefers sandy and calcareous soil and requires little irrigation.

Sowing can take place between March and May and, by staggering the sowing over time, it gives us a great profusion of flowers. It grows very well in full sun. Every 15 days we distribute liquid fertilizer. By cutting the withered flowers, we encourage the formation of new buds throughout the summer.

Before winter we protect the plants with a layer of Dry leaves or with light soil obtained from compost.

A natural example of the classic orange California poppy flowers.

Opium poppy

Thus defined for the liquid obtained from the still green and immature capsules of papaver somniferum, L'opium precisely. Has very large flowers and pink, white, red or mauve. The double shapes have very curled flowers in a wide range of colors. There morphine, obtained from this variety, is an alkaloid simply extracted and processed from opium: this has an important medical value, as effectively fights physical pain and is excellent in cases of respiratory system problems.

Opium, for its part, has the particularity of certainly causing a pleasant feeling of euphoria, well-being and detachment from reality, but it creates a addiction in most cases harmful (and often deadly) to the mind and body of those who use it.

Morphine is obtained from papaver somniferum, but also pure opium, which is dangerous for our body and mind.

Blue poppy

The Blue Poppy (scientific name Meconopsis betonicifolia), also called Himalayan poppy, is a perennial native to the mountains of Asia where it grows up to an altitude of 1700 m above sea level. In Italy it is very difficult to grow it because it loves very cool climates.



They are extremely herbaceous easy to grow, as by nature they are used to suffering adverse conditions that affect our garden: from heat to drought.


Let's develop them in places sunny, even partially shaded, as long as you guarantee it brightness and a few hours of direct sun.

Type of terrain

Any type of garden soil, we add minimal part of the sand and expanded clay.


We water only the young and newly purchased seedlings in the nursery.


They do not require specific fertilizers: we then apply fertilizer for any plant.


We propagate perennials for division in spring or for root cuttings in winter. Do we want to get beautiful cut flowers? Cut them early in the morning and, before putting them in pots, immerse the ends of the stems in boiling water for about 15 seconds.

Illness and treatment

They are hardy and hardy plants. Only adversities can arise for wrong cultivation techniques, like an exposure that is too shady.

Poppy seed properties

THE poppy seeds they are mainly appreciated for the high content of elements such as calcium and vitamin E, but above all for the effect sedative and calming on the nervous system. Widely used in the kitchen, especially in addition to bakery products, to be an excellent source of fats and proteins.


Cute beauties. The poppy family ( Papaver ) includes 50 species of annuals and perennials with cupped rippled flowers reminiscent of crepe paper. They are available in numerous shades, both solid and two-tone, and in single or double form.

Grow poppies in full sun in rich, very well-drained soil standing water around the roots, especially in winter, can be fatal. Sow the seed directly, as the poppy's long root makes transplanting difficult.

Keep friends close. For all the beauty of their flowers, poppies have coarse, hairy foliage that some find unappealing even they hibernate after flowering. Plant poppies behind other ornaments that shield their leaves and fill in the gaps once they have faded.

The most conspicuous poppy is oriental ( Eastern P ), whose flowers can grow up to 25 cm (10 in.), with black spots at the base of red, orange, pink or purple petals.

A tiny beauty. Alpine poppy has flowers up to 5 cm (2 in.) Through shades of yellow, white, orange, or red on a miniature plant. It is easy to grow from seed and, even if not long lived, to sow alone without becoming invasive.

Corn poppy, or the Flanders poppy ( P rhoeas ), is a delicate but hard annual that transforms the fields of Europe into seas of scarlet in spring. Now naturalized in this country, corn poppies spontaneously sow, then plant them where they can spread.

For pastel colors, they grow Shirley poppies, a variety developed from corn poppies. Go with the single flower shape for the delicate blooms use the double types for full, tousled flowers that look like peonies.

Demanding but rewarding The Icelandic poppy ( P. nudicale ), a biennial grown as an annual, is the most difficult to grow. but its silky petals are the most intensely colored and seem to glow with an inner light. This heavy bloomer - with up to 50 flowers per plant - is ideal for cutting. Sow in late summer for next year's blooms.

History and symbology

According to the ancient Greeks, the poppy was the symbol of oblivion and sleep, in Greek mythology Morpheus, the god of dreams, was represented with a bouquet of poppies in his hands. Also according to Greek mythology, Dementra, mother earth, goddess of wheat and agriculture, found the serenity lost due to the death of her daughter Persephone (wife of Hades god of the underworld) by drinking infusions made with poppy flowers. For the Greeks, in fact, the poppy was also the flower symbol of consolation. The ancient Romans instead associated the poppy to the goddess Ceres (equivalent of the Greek goddess Demeter) depicting her with garlands of poppies, due to the constant presence of poppies in all the wheat fields.

During the Middle Ages, the poppy was instead associated, due to its color, with the sacrifice of Christ and his death, for this reason it is often depicted in frescoes in churches dating back to medieval times.

In the wake of the medieval tradition, which associates the poppy with sacrifice, in the United Kingdom, during the First World War, garlands made up of poppies were used to celebrate the men who died for the homeland.

In language of flowers and plants the poppy like many other flowers can take on different meanings depending on the color of its petals: the poppy with petals whites symbolizes the bad luck, the poppy with petals Detective stories represents the success, the poppy with petals rose there serenity, the poppy with petals reds represents the sleep and theoblivion, as well as thedormant pride.

Curiosity: the term "poppy" is used as a synonym for powerful people, this meaning is due to the legend according to which the King of Rome Tarquinio the Superb, wanting to teach his son the quickest way to conquer the city of Gabi, went to the garden and with a blow of the stick cut off the heads of all the poppies, wanting, with that gesture, to make his son understand that it was necessary to eliminate all the most powerful characters of the opposing city.

Poppy - Papaver: Poppy variety

In addition to the papaver genus, other plants that are certainly called poppies are certainly very famous Californian poppies, a small perennial of American origin, also belonging to the papaveraceae family, but to the eschscholttzia genus, the common name is escolzia.

These are small perennial plants, to be cultivated by sowing them directly in the home, even as annuals in pots or in a sunny place in the garden, they do not have great needs and there are many hybrid varieties, with yellow to yellow flowers. orange, white to pink.

The Himalayan poppies are also very famous, or blue poppies also 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 they are not very easy to cultivate, especially the Himalayan species, which need a decidedly cooler climate than that of sunny Italy. However, there are hybrids of blue poppy a little more tolerant of heat, which can also be successfully cultivated in our gardens.

A thousand red poppies

For a couple of years now, poppies (Papaver rhoeas), cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and other annuals, thanks to the Municipality, which has resumed sowing them, involving associations between non-profit organizations, area committees and schools. The initiative, which started during the years of the previous administration, is very popular with everyone, gives joy, helps pollinating insects and greatly reduces the maintenance of these areas, since after a first tillage and sowing, it is sufficient. a cut in summer or late summer. The same is happening in other cities as well. A virtuous, economic and engaging urban redevelopment project for all citizens.

In Milan, you can admire these flowery meadows, for example along the traffic dividers of Viale Elvezia (for the photo of which I thank my friend Daniele Cipriani), in the public garden of largo Marinai d’Italia, in piazzale Libia, in the Ripamonti area, in the Idroscalo park and in many other places.

In Viale Monza, along the 5 kilometers that connect Via Crespi to Sesto Marelli, a flaming wave of poppies alone was sown at the end of March, thanks to the COLOR EARTH urban regeneration and community project, conceived by the artist Angelo Caruso and curated by the City Art association in collaboration with the SoutHeritage Foundation for contemporary art and the Open Design School, making use of a small budget and few sponsors. The same thing was done in April in Matera, to symbolically unite the two cities, but sowing countless sunflowers.

A thousand red poppies are also blooming in via Rubattino, in the eastern hinterland of Milan, on the border with the municipality of Segrate, in a large private field.

Do you have other places to indicate and photographs to send us?

Video: Why Opium Poppy Fields Are Rare in the US