Oriental poppies – they either thrive for you, or you can’t figure them out. In mid-Michigan, the peak in early- to mid-June and by late July their thistle-like leaves have dried up and are tossed on the compost heap.
Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) blossom in hues ranging from white to pale pink, hot pink, orange and scarlet. The bloom itself may be up to 6 inches across, the petals crinkly and black at the base.
Poppies’ center is usually a dark-black mass of stamens, like the ones shown in this photo. The flower buds are fuzzy, bluish-green orbs, often held on crooked stems like the man-eating plant in Rocky Horror Picture Show.
When the flower’s gone, a black-edged seedpod sits atop the stalk and if allowed to dry will produce hundreds of round black seeds favored to be scattered atop Czech rolls or bagels.
Oriental poppies like it hot and dry. They will come back each year, and are hardy at to USDA zone 3. In a soggy soil, they’ll develop some kind of root rot and die.
They grow to about 2.5 to 3.5 feet tall, making them a good mid-size perennial for the flower border. Make sure another perennial or a bunch of annuals grows up to cover their yellowing foliage – which needs to be left until it’s fully yellowed and can be pulled off. Until then it’s making food for the root and next year’s flowers.
Poppies may be divided after they’ve been in place about five years. Divide them with a spade in late summer – which means you’ll have to mark where they’re at before the leaves die down.
Good companions include peonies, Russian sage, loosestrife, Asiatic lilies, coreopsis and gaillardia.
Oriental poppies are native to the Mediterranean region.