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Somniferum is the variety of poppy whose seeds are most often used in culinary activities and baking. The seed oil is also used for a variety of purposes such as making paints, varnishes and salad dressings. Also like the peony, it has been a common feature of poetry and art dating well into ancient times. It is cultivated in many parts of the world as a crop and an ornamental flower. Unlike peonies, though, the flowers are not frilly. This variety’s attractive flowers are white with a purple mark in the center of each petal. With plants stretching up to four feet, the foliage is bluish green and resembles lettuce. They will usually hybridize with other poppies if precautions are not taken to prevent cross-pollination.
These seeds are easily grown outdoors in full sun by scattering the seeds on the surface of the soil and pressing them in. Some growers actually prefer to mix the seeds with a loose, fine soil or sand and then scatter the mix. Sow the seeds in early spring or in the fall if your bed is prepared before the winter. Sowing in the fall may not work if the winters are especially cold. Seeds sown in the fall will germinate the following spring when the temperatures are right. An early start is important because the seeds will germinate best at temperatures of about 60 degree Fahrenheit. Transplanting is not recommended unless it can be done carefully without disturbing the roots. Shirley poppies are considered to be particularly sensitive to transplanting. A light, well-draining soil is important. A mix of compost, sand, peat moss and vermiculite will work. Add lime if the soil is acidic. Keep well-watered, particularly until the plants are established. Fertilize monthly with a high-phosphorous fertilizer.