Friday, April 29, 2005

Something with Poison in It, I Think

Oriental Poppy
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
Poppies! Are they called poppies, because they pop explosively out of their buds? Going from tightly shut buds to extravagantly dazzling fully in bloom flowers in an instant? Whenever I find a poppy in bloom, I find shards of the bud all around it--sometimes as much as a foot away from the plant. What kind of weird plant hormone chemistry must be involved to make that happen? If I ever have a lot (really a lot) of time on my hands, I’m going to park myself in front of my poppy plant and witness one of these explosions.

Poppies (I keep typing poopies--hee, hee) are one of my absolute favorite flowers. B says they look like orange Mr. Coffee filters. I see his point, but I love the wrinkly-crinkly paper texture of the flowers, the black blotches on the inside of the petals, and the roly-poly, inky black seedpod in the center of the flower. Note to lackeys of the Drug Czar who have nothing better to do but trawl through blogs looking for gardeners they can bust: My poppy is an Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), not the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum),* so don’t show up at my house with your Hummers and nylon jackets.

There is one downside to poppies. They flame out really quickly. For example, this poppy bloomed on Wednesday. By Sunday, its petals will be on the ground. So, while I’d love to have a flaming mass of Oriental poppies, an enoromous drift of crazy-neck Iceland poppies, and a vast meadow of Shirley poppies, it's not going to happen. I’d have one week of fabulousness in late spring, followed by a swathe of scraggly, charmless foliage that would rapidly die back. I don’t have a big enough garden that I can afford large voids of barren earth. So for now, I have just the one “specimen” poppy that came with the house.

I do have some poppies that earn their keep. California poppies bloom from April until November. Perhaps the reason they aren't as short-lived is that they aren't really a poppy. They're another genus altogether, although they are in the poppy family. Not sure of the genealogical ins and outs so don’t ask me. Anyway, these guys are cast-iron plants. I do nothing to them. No supplemental water, compost, or TLC. Just plenty of neglect. I pull out many of them every year just to keep them in check. It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that these orange flowers are intermingled clashingly with my pink and red roses, but there’s nothing I can do about it. They self-seed like mad and bloom their little duncecaps off. Speaking of those duncecaps--I very much enjoy searching among the poppies for flowers that are just about to bloom and prematurely pulling off the duncecaps. Just to save them the trouble, you know. It’s great fun.

*Apparently, it is impossible to buy Papaver somniferum seeds in the U.S., because the government thinks miniature Golden Triangles will spring up in every suburb. Of course, you can always just scrape the poppy seeds off a bagel and plant them. The opium poppy and the breadseed poppy are one and the same.

**Not the greatest photos, once again. I am using my new digital camera, but I haven’t applied myself to reading the manual yet. The other problem is that I keep jumping the gun and snapping photos as soon as plants produce their first runty flowers, rather than waiting for them to reach their peak. In future, I’ll try to see if I can hold off and post photos when plants are more discernibly stunning.


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