This ancient form of cultivated poppy produces the most unusual seed pod of all poppies. The main pod is surrounded by masses of smaller pods giving the impression of a mother hen and chicks. Papaver somniferum 'Hens and Chicks' are primarily grown for their curious seed pods which are extremely decorative and are much in demand for cut and dried flower arrangements.
Hens and Chicks poppy develop large flower heads that stay curled downward for several days longer than other varieties. The ‘chicks’ are developing during this waiting period and will soon force the caps over the flower to crack as the stem straightens and the flowers open.
Sown in early spring, the plants grow quickly and the first flowers appear in early July. They grow to about 60 to 90cm (24 to 36in) tall and have thick stalks and broad lettuce like leaves. The large flowers are single-petalled and usually a deep red to a light purple colours and are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.
The light green, almost round pods are well-suited for crafts and dried floral arrangements. This annual variety will readily self-seed and will make an excellent addition to any garden for years to come.
Chose a position in the garden that has deep, well-drained, fertile soil in full sun, they can also be grown in large containers. Prepare the area by loosening the soil with a fork to at least 30cm (12in) deep. Poppies will do well even in poor soil but prefer rich fertile soils. Enrich the soil with manure, compost or bone meal ahead of planting, (or any organic fertiliser rich in nitrogen). These poppies are hungry feeders, they grow very quickly and will gobble up the nutrients but their eventual show will be more than worth the proper environment.
Sowing: Sow in pots in autumn or sow directly in spring
Sown in spring the plants will flower June to August. If sown in autumn they will flower from May onwards.
Poppies have very sensitive root systems and do not transplant well at all. With care, they can be sown indoors and transplanted while young, but often better results are gained when seeds are simply sprinkled outdoors where they are to grow. The plants look best when sown, or planted in groups.
Whichever method you choose, the seeds are best sown very, very thinly. You can thin the seedlings out if they grow too close together, but it is not really possible to transplant them. The seeds need darkness to germinate and at temperatures of around 20°C (68°F) will germinate in less than two weeks.
Sowing Indoors: Sow in spring March to May
Seedlings have long taproots, so are best sown in deeper pots, rather than shallow trays. Fill the pots with fine seeding compost, stand the pots in water and then drain. Take a very small pinch of seeds and lightly sprinkle on the surface, press the seeds lightly down so that they make contact with the soil. Place in a propagator, on the window-sill, or in a cold-frame. The seeds germinate in the dark, so use newspaper or lightweight cardboard to cover the pots until the first green shoots appear, it can then be removed once they have germinated.
Use care when planting out the seedlings from mid-May. If the plants get too big before the weather is suitable for planting out, stand the pots in a cooler spot this will hold them back a bit. They will begin to bloom 10 to 12 weeks from the time you plant them. Keep the pots moist at all times.
Sowing Direct: Sow in spring or in autumn.
Sow from the end of April through May, or sow in late August to September.
Seed can be simply sown directly where the plants are to grow in the garden. They can be broadcast sown over a wide area, sown in groups or short drills for maximum effect in the border, or sown in straight rows for a cutting garden.
Draw a furrow and label the row. Mix the seed with fine sand and sow very, very thinly along the row between thumb and forefinger. Cover with a maximum of 50mm (¼in) of soil, press carefully down with your hands and sprinkle finely with water. Sow extra rows at no less than 20cm (8in) apart.
If sowing more than one annual in the same bed, mark the sowing areas with a ring of light coloured sand and label. The seedlings will appear in rows 6 to 8 weeks after planting and can be told from nearby weed seedlings quite easily.
If sowing early in spring remember that young seedlings are susceptible to frost so do protect them with some garden fleece if it is forecast. When sown in autumn the plants will form a tap root which is fairly hardly, so while the leaf above ground will be lost over the winter, the plant will shoot from this tap root again in the spring.
Thin the seedlings out so they are finally 30cm (12in) in apart by early summer. Be ruthless, just leave the biggest and most healthy looking. By doing this, you'll get more flowers and pods per plant that are bigger and stronger.
Poppies don't need to be watered too often, but when you do water, give the plants a deep soaking. This will promote strong root growth. After about 6 to 8 weeks of growth, add a high Phosphorus fertiliser for the flowering stage.
The most serious problem for these poppies is root rot. Excellent drainage is a must. Snails find the young leaves very tasty, so a snail deterrent is recommended. They can be prone to grey mould, but usually this is only a cosmetic issue. Once they get established the plants are very hardy.
The blooms make stunning floral arrangements and keep well in the vase. The pods are also beautiful for flower arrangements, they can also be dried for winter arrangements and dried floral projects. Cut the pods off leaving a long stem if possible and hang upside down to dry.
Harvesting Seeds and Pods:
In the garden each individual flower lasts from three to eight days. When they have finished blooming, the petals start falling off. At this point the plant uses its remaining energy to reproduce and the pods will grow fat with seeds. To extend the plants bloom time in the garden, cut off old blooms before pods are formed.
Eventually the pods will begin to dry out and the vents at the top of the pods will open when the seeds are ripe, ready to release the seed. The pods can be cut off to harvest the seeds or the plants can be left standing in the garden to self-sow for next year. If seeding is not desired, simply deadhead spent flowers before pods are formed.
The seeds can be used for cooking and baking or can be stored ready for next year. The seeds can be used in cooking but if eaten raw can cause mild stomach upset.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Borders and Beds, Flower Arranging
Poppy is generally believed to stem from West Asia, although more recently a West Mediterranean origin was suggested. The poppy was cultivated in Europe since the Neolithic era some six thousand years ago. It is probably one of the earliest plants cultivated in that region.
The genus name Papaver is classical Latin for the poppy plant. It appears to have no Indo–European cognates and cannot be explained further. The Latin word lives today in several languages, in French pivot and Portuguese papoila. It is also the source of English word poppy (Old English popæg).
The species name somniferum comes from the Latin somnus meaning ‘sleep’ and ferre meaning ‘bring’. It refers to the narcotic properties of opium. There are similar words and meaning in other languages, in Spanish adormidera is from Latin dormire meaning ‘to sleep’.
Papaver somniferum varieties are commonly known as ‘Bread Seed' poppies, the plants are the source for commercial seeds used in baking, salad dressings etc.
They are also known as Opium poppies. The term is from the concentrated latex obtained from unripe capsules has been used since Greco-Roman times. The word is related to Greek opos meaning ‘sap’ or ‘juice of plants’.
To clarify, while it is perfectly legal to grow these plants in the garden, it is illegal to use the plants for anything other than their intended decorative uses as an ornamental flower.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 2,500 seeds Family Papaveraceae Genus Papaver Species somniferium Cultivar Hens and Chicks Synonym Hens & Chicks Common Name Breadseed poppy Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers Late spring to early summer Foliage Broad lettuce-like leaves Height 60 to 90cm (24 to 36in) Spread 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) Position Full sun for best flowering Soil Fertile, Well drained Time to Sow Sow in spring or in autumn