Poppies and Papaver Seed Collection

by Heidi Koehler

Most flowers lose their petals in order to produce seed. This can be problematic when the aim is to collect seed from a particular variety of plant or a certain colour if you planted lots. I'm talking about annuals for the most part but this can apply to perennials as well.

It is always the case in my garden where I aim to collect seeds specifically from certain varieties and anything on top of that becomes a mixed collection. For example, I'm particularly fond of poppies. I grow the typical corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) which are red, pink, orange, white, mixed, with or without a central black cross, single, double, pom-pom, with ruffled leaves or wavy patterns etc. At one point I did actually save from just about every variety and planted the following year but there was so much cast off seed from the first ones that it all came out looking random (still pleasant.) I concluded it might not be worthwhile to try and isolate seeds from a plant with so much variation and such a self seeding habit.

But this is not the case with my favorite poppies: Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferum) which have single and double forms. I originally started with just a tiny container full of seeds I collected from the poppies growing at my Mom's place. Actually I collected a handful in about 2004 and dumped them in the big planters my sister had and they grew there the following year...from those poppies I collected seed and regularly grew these flowers every year from Langley to Maple Ridge to Merritt. In Merritt I found a lot of other varieties and added to my collection.
But there was a bit of problem with the hoodlums...the first few years weren't so bad but once I planted the white ones I became the subject of petty vandalism with stupid people trampling in my garden at night and ripping the seed pods off. Due to this fact the following year I ripped out most of the somniferums that came up from self seeding and limited where I grew them to less obvious spots.
I currently have the following from which I will collect seed:
Double Red (I call it ragged red because for a double flower it has rather jagged petals).
Single White (grows very tall- about 4 feet with a large but lumpy seed pod...very often the pods of the white ones won't open- you have to physically break them to get at the seed)

Single Red (faint pink tint- from mom)
Double Pink and Single Pink
Double Fuchsia
Double Rose Pink
Double Lavender and Single Lavender
Double Purple and Single Purple
Double Peach and possibly a Single Peach.
Double Pink Red...it is getting a bit muddled here since there are colours that are obviously blends of two others so I have to draw the line somewhere.

I also delved into perennials a few years ago so have a lot of Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale.) Even though most people don't grow them from seed (they don't form flowers the first year) but this is what I did from seeds collected from people and locations in Merritt. Unfortunately I didn't label things properly and when they came up the first year I really didn't remember what I all had because there were all these bunches of green leaves and nothing else. I wound up planting them out in the front garden without any idea of what I would get. Fortunately I got ONE out of about 20 or so plants that was the hot pink colour I desperately wanted. Also got a white one, a dusty pink, several salmon coloured ones and many reds some of which bore a black central cross and others that were plain red.

In any case I've learned a few lessons about marking plants: with most annuals I will either attach a white paper twist tie (the kind you get from the grocery store when you shop for vegetables) or I will use a piece of plastic with a hole punched in one end and a slit cut towards it to put around the stem. Both methods have to be done carefully and both work quite well. Twist ties made with paper work well where there is little precipitation- like the Thompson Okanagan region where I live. Plastic is better for more finicky weather or if you want to easily reuse them for the following year.
Tip: I make the plastic ones with old Venetian blinds. You can find them in thrift stores for dirt cheap. I chop them into about two inch lengths, use a single hole punch, cut a slit towards the hole and mark it with a water proof marker. I actually had some busted blinds that I continually make new markers from.
Tip: I used to use film canisters to save seed in but besides the fact that these are getting harder to come by they are now to small. I actually had to buy containers for the amount of seed I collect.
Tip: The process of collecting seeds can be simplified: once the heads are dry (dusty buff coloured and you can hear the seeds shaking around in them) break them off at the 'neck' trying to keep the vibration/shake to a minimum and drop them in a pail. I use ice cream containers. Once I'm finished collecting I place the pail in a hot dry location and wait about a week and then I put the lid on and shake the container hard. In another pail I put a pasta sieve inside and dump the seed heads in there and gently shake it. A lot of seed will come out but I still have to individually empty each pod out...if I don't I will wind up with hundreds of poppies growing out of my compost the following year...not the worst thing I suppose!


  1. I have poppies that have six bulbs on each stem. The flowers are large & look like the double red in your pictures.

    1. They sound lovely! Sometimes I get a few extras on one plant but only if it's not too crowded out by others