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This tall, bi-color variety of opium poppy is believed to trace back to the gardens of Monticello — but like most other crops attributed to Thomas Jefferson these were only returned to Monticello in the 1980s when it became a museum and center for the study of historic plants. If this indeed traces to the days when Jefferson enslaved hundreds of African and African-descended people, the seeds must have been maintained by local Charlottesville residents for more than a century.
Flowers are vibrant scarlet red with a dark indigo pattern near the center. Plants will readily re-seed themselves and grow to about 3-4’ tall provided they get adequate space, water, and nutrients. Our seeds were grown by our friends Kass McKinnon and Clint Freund of Cultivating the Commons.
Poppy seeds are not only edible, used in treats both savory and sweet, but they also produce an edible oil much prized in certain cultures for both cooking or raw use. Additionally, as the botanical name indicates (Papaver somniferum — "poppy that brings sleep") this species is probably most well-known as the source of opium, which is the narcotic latex extracted from the unripe seed pods. It is illegal in the United States to extract opium from poppy pods — and it is even more illegal to "refine" the raw product into morphine or heroin. But while opium is a controlled substance, and by the letter of the law opium poppies and poppy straw are also illegal, opium poppy seeds are widely available from seed companies in the United States — and of course they can be found in most every supermarket across the country as a food product. We have not heard of anyone growing poppies as an ornamental or food crop running into legal trouble, but we would be remiss if we didn't explain our understanding of the legal situation regarding the cultivation of this special plant, which is as follows: As long as you do not score the seed pods to extract the latex, you should be fine — but we are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice!
Poppies are easy to grow, beautiful, and delicious. With any luck, they will re-seed in your garden and you'll have them coming back for years to come. Start them early — the seedlings like it cold!