Article: Papaver somniferum: Is This Drop-Dead-Gorgeous Poppy Illegal to Grow in the U.S.?: Untitled

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Image Papaver somniferum: Is This Drop-Dead-Gorgeous Poppy Illegal to Grow in the U.S.?
By Larry Rettig on July 5, 2010

As a gardener and avid reader of articles and books related to gardening and horticulture, I’ve more than once stumbled upon a curious assertion that the Bread Seed Poppy, Papaver somniferum, is actually the Opium Poppy and therefore illegal to grow. I didn’t give the claim much credence, because the seed is sold openly by such venerable establishments as Thompson and Morgan, Burpee, Park Seed, Cooks Garden Seeds, and many others.

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Jul 5, 2010 4:34 PM CST
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR zone 8
Great article Larry. It is a bit confusing isn't it. We used to live in Eastern WA and a neighboring farmer grew the opium poppies. He had special security fence with government signs all along the fence. The fields were beautiful. Of course it was harvested and went to a company that manufactured drugs.
We were told the authorities don't care if you have a few plants in your flower beds, you just can't grow them in quanity.
Jul 5, 2010 4:51 PM CST
Name: Becky Capps
Phoenix, AZ 85022
finding joy one day at a time!
Great Article, Larry.

I love happy looking!
I learned a lot and of all things, I am so tempted to plant a poppy seed bagel! Hilarious!

Jul 5, 2010 5:29 PM CST
Name: Melissa E. Keyes
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Zone 11
The bright red ones are fabulous.

Now, not a few in your yard, but if you grew a twenty acre field of them it might look suspicious.

And, please, what seed can survive baking temperatures, and sprout? Tho' if you ate a poppyseed bagel and had a drug test, it would come positive.

Pretty flowers.

Jul 5, 2010 7:26 PM CST
Name: Kathy
Western MA zone 4-5a

Thumbnail by boojum

Jul 5, 2010 7:29 PM CST
Name: Sharon
What a wonderful, beautiful, gorgeous flower!

And I add poppy seeds to all my salads, too.
Wonder if they drug test little old retired ladies these days?

Great article, Larry!
Jul 5, 2010 8:45 PM CST
Name: Larry Rettig
South Amana, IA
Thank you all for your comments and compliments. It's certainly an interesting situation.

I love poppy seed bagels. The next time I eat one, I'll save a piece and plant it. Don't know if poppy seeds germinate at this time of year, but I'm guessing they do. While I'm at it, I'll plant some seeds from the supermarket as well.

Melissa, I'll try to remember to alert you when I report the results.
Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens: Come on in and take the tour! Check out the photos!
As a gardener: When planning for a year, I plant corn. When planning for decades, I plant trees. When planning for life, I train and educate people.

Jul 5, 2010 10:51 PM CST
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX
Just found this article. I've read some of Pollan's writings and believe he's certainly one of the great minds. And courageous to include sections on the marijuana plant and the opium poppy in his books. I have grown poppies. I recently received poppy seeds from someone who mentioned that they are trying to develop opium poppy varieties to eventually eliminate enough of the substance that makes it so controversial...and illegal. I suppose the intent is to allow more use of them by gardeners without the possibility of someone using it for illegal drug use. There was a story I heard about in which a young man idly experimented with using poppy plants in that way and ended up accidentally killing himself by overdose. Still, the US is very strict about such things. Farmers in this country still can't legally grow hemp for strictly legal uses...because, even though they have plants bred to eliminate almost all of the substance which could possibly be used for illegal drug purposes, the government still prohibits the plants being grown at all. The argument being that the governmental agencies don't have the ability to check the crops to make sure the wrong kind of hemp isn't being grown.
Jul 6, 2010 5:44 AM CST
Name: Kathy
Western MA zone 4-5a
Interesting. I've got some hemp clothes which were made of hemp grown elsewhere but never knew why. I really like Pollan's books, too. (Still want to find and visit that apple tree "library" in upstate NY he wrote about.)
Jul 6, 2010 7:46 AM CST
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX
I hope someday they will change the law to allow limited farming of hemp. The 'Janice's Grape' Poppy I grew this year.

Thumbnail by LindaTX8

Jul 6, 2010 7:50 AM CST
Name: Kathy
Western MA zone 4-5a
Gorgeous color!
Jul 6, 2010 9:42 AM CST
Name: Rannveig
Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
Very interesting article Larry - I somehow assumed that the garden varieties didn't contain enough of the illegal substance .... I grow them in my garden and they're thriving. I didn't think they could self-sow here but they do...... I have to be more aggressive in weeding them out next spring... they've practically taken over my rose garden ..... but they're oh so pretty Smiling

all the bright green "cabbage" leaves are poppies ... they're just starting to flower now Smiling

Thumbnail by rannveig

Jul 6, 2010 10:53 AM CST
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX
There ARE poppies which are .perfectly legal to grow. Just the Papaver somniferum that has that "is it or isn't it" illegal to grow issue.
Jul 6, 2010 12:06 PM CST
Name: woofie
NE WA zone 5a
Somehow, it just seems so silly to outlaw a PLANT!!! Heavens sakes, what's next? They going to outlaw foxglove because it's poisonous? Or Castor Beans? Or Oleanders? How about daffodils? Confused
Confidence is that feeling you have right before you do something really stupid.
Jul 6, 2010 12:17 PM CST
Name: Larry Rettig
South Amana, IA
Thanks Linda, Kathy, and Rannveig, for your comments.

Linda--Thanks for the beautiful photo. Interesting that there's a move afoot to breed the opium out of Papaver somniferum. Regarding hemp, farmers in our area grew it during WWII for its fiber. It subsequently escaped field cultivation and now comes up like weeds in our gardens. We're constantly pulling it! I suppose that technically, we're breaking the law by having marijuana on our property, even though we didn't plant it.

I wrote an article on hemp some time ago for Dave's Garden. If you like, you can find it here:

Rannveig--Thanks for the great garden shot. I can see the poppies there next to the foxglove. All the photos of your garden I've seen so far are gorgeous. They certainly help to negate the myth that nothing grows in Iceland!
Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens: Come on in and take the tour! Check out the photos!
As a gardener: When planning for a year, I plant corn. When planning for decades, I plant trees. When planning for life, I train and educate people.

Jul 6, 2010 3:22 PM CST
Name: Kathryn Algood
Judsonia, Arkansas
Wow, I have been checking out the poppy seeds on ebay, and wouldn't you know, every one of them are ones listed here as illegal. That's discouraging ;0)

great article.

I would love to grow those double flowering poppies next year.
Amber's Leather Wrap Bracelets
Jul 9, 2010 6:46 AM CST
Name: starlight1153 Zone 8a/b
I too love poppies. What I noticed in your article was the part about the seeds containing small amounts of the opium. This I agree with because I have known folks that were turned down for jobs when their drug testing of a narcotic in their system. It is not a good thing to eat things like Poppy Seed Rolls, Poppy seeded bread and poppy seed dressing before going for job interview and drug testing.
Jul 9, 2010 2:42 PM CST
Name: Arlene Marshall
Twin Lakes, IA & Orange, CA
Zone 4B
Great article, Larry!
Yum Yum Divas ~ ~ "Most recipes are not invention . . . but evolutions"
Jul 10, 2010 10:09 PM CST
Name: Nicole
Atlanta 8a
Great article. I didn't know it was illegal. Of course, I've never had any success growing poppies. They would germinate but never make it through our spring heat.
Jul 11, 2010 11:31 AM CST
Name: Linda
Medina Co., TX
Did you plant them early? We often have hot spring here also. The darn things have to get up to a certain size before it's hot! The little seedlings don't fare well in the 90's.
Jul 11, 2010 11:33 AM CST
Name: Nicole
Atlanta 8a
I started them in January. They would come up but never get big enough to flower. We did have weather in the 90's in early April this year. Spring is so unpredictable here.

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