Opium poppy, Papaver somniferum - Can you grow the drug poppy?

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Opium poppy - Papaver somniferum

Opium poppy includes three subspecies, which differ slightly from the content of alkaloids. These include:
  • Papaver somniferum subsp. somniferum
  • Papaver somniferum subsp. setigerum (also called Papaver setigerum)
  • Papaver somniferum subsp. songarium
Commercially, there are cultivars that have been bred for commercial alkaloid production, those with low morphine content, which theoretically may be cultivated without authorization, and those species in which the content is not further declared and which are sold as over-the-counter seeds to the hobby gardener, Since trading in the seeds of opium poppy is not covered by the Narcotics Act, the purchase and sale is legal.


The varieties of opium poppy are distinguished into early flowering varieties (winter poppy) and late flowering varieties (summer poppy). While the winter poppy already ripens in June, the summer poppy needs about three weeks longer. In addition to many morphine-containing varieties, there are also a few varieties that contain very little of this substance.
Approved in the EU are:
1. Varieties with high morphine content (not suitable for private growing!)
  • MOTOR: new variety with high active ingredient content
  • OZ: high-yielding variety
  • ZENO PLUS: most common variety of winter poppy (certified seed)
  • ZENO2002: older variety winter poppy (certified)
  • ZETA: Summer poppy with high or low morphine content for different climates (with certificate)
2. Varieties with very low alkaloid contents
  • 'Mieszko' (morphine variety with approval by the Bundesopiumstelle)
  • 'ZENO Morphex': first cultivated winter poppy (2007) with certification (less than 200 mg / kg in the dried capsule)
The approval for the variety 'Przemko', which was granted in 1996, has since withdrawn the Bundesopiumstelle. In addition to the Papaver somniferum, the varieties Papaver bracteatum and Papaver paeoniflorum also contain opiates and, as a precautionary measure, should not be grown without authorization.

Instructions for sowing and care

The perennial opium poppy is considered easy to care for and is easy to cultivate in our latitudes.


Papaver somniferum can easily be cultivated in our climatic conditions - even in low mountain areas. The one-year-old plant needs a lot of sunlight, but not much heat. Particularly well this high-growing poppy species harmonizes with neighbors such as the fat hen, daisies, goldenrod or the larkspur.


Opium poppy prefers well-drained pebbles and sandy soils. Ideally, the garden soil is also rich in nutrients. If the soil requirements are well met, the gardener can look forward to a particularly magnificent flower.
  • well drained of water
  • sandy or gritty
  • profound
  • nutritious
  • pH value: neutral (between 6.5 and 8)

Preparation of the soil

Since the opium poppy likes sandy-loamy soil conditions and appreciates a high nutrient content, most garden soils have to be prepared a little, so that optimal growth conditions prevail.
  • Dig up the bed
  • Improve soil with compost
  • possibly make sand permeable to water
  • Crush rough earth with the rake
  • Beet for a few days rest


Opium poppy - Papaver somniferum

If you have obtained the permit for cultivation, you can sow the seeds of the opium poppy in the spring directly into the field. In cultivation, this poppy hardly differs from many other poppy species such as poppy or Turkish poppy. So that not too many poppy plants need to grow in a confined space, it is advisable to mix the seed with a handful of fine sand before application.
  • Time: between the end of March and the beginning of April
  • directly into the field possible
  • Sprinkle seeds wide-bred
  • Row spacing: 50 - 80 cm
  • thin or not covered with sand (bird protection)
  • Poppy is a light germ
  • Gently pour
  • Germination time: 8 to 10 days (maximum 21 days)
  • Keep substrate slightly damp at all times
After a germination period of only two weeks, first leaves appear on the still young plant.
Tip: You can even seed the seeds in the fall (September). Let the flowered plants stand and ripen the seed pods, they sow themselves.

to water

Like all seeds, the seed of Papaver somniferum needs sufficient water until germination. In order not to wash away the seeds, you should either use a very fine watering can for the watering can or simply spray the soil with the garden hose.
Once germination has taken place, the opium poppy is quite modest in terms of its water balance. The sun-hungry plant withstands even long periods of drought without any problems. Nevertheless, it should be watered occasionally.


If you have already improved the garden soil with compost or a green manure before sowing, no additional nutrient supply is necessary during the entire growth phase of the opium poppy. Otherwise helps a bit of long-term fertilizer. At the beginning of the growth phase, the opium poppy needs a phosphorus-rich fertilizer, later a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content. However, be sparing with the fertilizer, because the poppy shoots in very high amounts of nitrogen in the ground like to be in the air and its pretty flower stems buckle, as soon as it is windy or raining.

To cut

The Papaver is also uncomplicated during the care cut. It is limited to removing wilted parts of plants (wear gloves). Since this mainly affects the flowers, you do not have to cut at the desired harvest of seeds or self-sowing. Once the plant has dried completely in late summer, it can be cut off near the ground after the seed capsules have ripened.


Opium poppy is one of the annual plants that die at the latest in autumn and the next generation of plants by spreading the seeds accomplished. For this reason, no care measure is necessary before the winter.

Beautiful ornamental varieties as an alternative

Instead of the delicate opium poppy should gardeners who want to grow the plants only for ornamental value, fall back on equally beautiful, but uncritical varieties. These are available in many different colors with filled or unfilled flowers.

Turkish Poppy (Papaver orientale)

Turkish poppy - Papaver orientale

The Turkish poppy belongs to the perennial shrubs. It makes bright red flowers with slightly creased petals between May and June. As an ornamental plant, it is also found with white, orange, yellowish or salmon flower.
  • also called Oriental poppy or Turk poppy
  • mostly as hybrids, perennial
  • Growth height: 40 to 90 cm
  • Flowering period: May to June
  • white, pink or red flowers, unfilled
  • Occurrence: Asia
  • 'Aladin': strong red flower
  • 'Brillant': older, common variety with orange - red flower
  • 'Helen Elisabeth': elegant, salmon-colored flower
  • 'Princ. Victoria Louise ': old rose flower with burgundy background
  • 'Royal Wedding': white flower with red-black ground, mottled with contrast
  • 'Türkenlouis': bright red flowers, fringed on the edge

Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule)

Iceland poppy - Papaver nudicaule

The Iceland poppy with its up to 15 centimeters large flowers is considered particularly robust and is also suitable for cooler regions. Among the different breeding forms are both annual and biennial plants. In contrast to almost all other poppy species, the Iceland poppy likes it a bit cooler.
  • Growth height: 50 to 60 cm
  • Flowering period: June to September
  • white, yellow, scarlet or salmon flowers, unfilled
  • Occurrence: Asia, Eastern Europe
  • beautiful varieties: 'Yellow Wonder', 'Cardinal', 'Matador', 'Pulchinella'
  • Special feature: cold germ (must be sown in autumn)

Alpine poppy (Papaver alpinum)

A low-growing poppy variety, which only reaches 20 cm in height, is the Alpine poppy. Because of its size, it needs completely different neighbors than, for example, the aspiring Turk poppy. At first glance, the untrained eye hardly recognizes the plant with its exotic flowers as a species of poppy.
  • Growth height: 5 to 20 cm
  • Flowering period: May to August
  • yellow, orange or white flowers, unfilled
  • Occurrence: low mountain ranges in Europe
  • prefers calcareous soils

Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Corn poppy - Papaver rhoeas

Wild poppy species that adorns railway embankments and roadsides with their bright red flowers everywhere.
  • Growth height: 20 to 90 cm
  • annual
  • Flowering period: May to July
  • bright red, unfilled flower with black ground
  • Occurrence of Eurasia
  • can not stand a full sun

A ban that no one keeps to?

In fact, poppy poppies are not only found everywhere in seed bags (the sale of seeds is legal, only not cultivation), but also in many ornamental gardens nationwide. Again and again you can find the illegal drug plant even wild on the Baltic shore or on embankments of the highway. Freshly cut capsules are sold by some florists as jewelry for bouquets or dried in flower arrangements. Apparently, hardly anyone is aware of how severely the sleeping poppy ban is punished. However, they should be aware that even ignorance does not protect against punishment.
If you happen to already have a poppy plant in your garden, you do not have to panic, because eventually Papaver somniferum grows wild with us. No authority has the time to chase every single Papaver somniferum. However, you should not dare experiment with home-made opium or other intoxicants from the plant's juice. Depending on the variety and location, the ingredients contained vary greatly - and even small amounts of morphine can be fatal.

Video Board: how to be successful planting papaver somniferum poppies.

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