Veterans Day and Memorial Day, bringing to mind poppies. This graceful family of flowers isn’t typically grown in Florida’s mild climate, due to the seeds preference for cold weather, however you can grow poppies here. Good both as an ornamental bedding plant and for use as cut flowers. Fast growing and beautiful, poppies are an annual that reseeds freely. Plant in a location that you won’t mind seeing them in, for years to come! They are sun lovers and need regular watering and well drained soil. In hot regions, afternoon shade may be beneficial. California poppies, are a distant relation and are somewhat more tolerant of strong sun. It’s best to sow poppy seeds a few weeks prior to the last expected Spring frost. Ideal germination temperature is 55F. You may even want to put them in your refrigerator or freezer for a few days. You can also try sowing them in winter as the temps go down, though you may lose the plants in a freeze. Because the seeds are small, better results will be achieved by using a shaker. Stir a 1/2 cup of horticultural sand with your poppy seeds until well combined. Pour mix into an clean salt shaker. Water the location prior to sowing and when water is no longer standing, shake the seeds where you want them. You don’t have to cover with soil, just press gently into the earth. Poppies are beautiful but mostly toxic, so not for animal or human consumption.
Florida has a few varieties of native poppies, which are worthy of consideration. Sanguinaria canadensis or ‘Bloodroot Plant’ is a woodland plant from North Florida. It has attractive early spring flowers and foliage. It gets the name ‘Bloodroot’ from the bright red juice of a cut root. Indians used the plant as a dye/paint and bug repellent. This variety prefers shade to part shade locations and a moist rich but well-drained soil. It can be propagated from seed or from rhizome divisions during fall/winter dormancy.
A less showy native, Corydalis micrantha or fumewort, prefers partial sun and moist to moderate conditions, during its active growth in spring. This plant grows in a variety of soil, but is usually found in sandy or rocky areas. The foliage gradually withers away during the summer.
Argemone albiflora or White prickly poppy, has the more familiar bowl shape. A very tough and more tropical plant, it grows easily and has low water needs. Seeds sprout in a week or two. Known for the sharp thistles on its stem and leaves, it is very deer resistant. Culture is part shade to sun, sandy poor soil, and only light watering. Bees love the flowers and birds love the seeds. Blooms spring through summer and stands 2-3 feet high. Oil of from white prickly poppy seed was used as a fine lubricant during WWII. It also has a close relative, Argemone mexicana, or Mexican prickly poppy, which is a yellow variant, whose seeds are not edible. Due to its resilience, these plants can spread and become weedy.
Honoring our Veteran’s service is important to Homosassa River Garden Club. One of our continuing projects is Veterans Recognition. You can read about what we do on our Veterans project page, along with some history of how the poppy became associated with these special days and more.