What is an Iceland Poppy?

Alex Tree

Iceland poppy, scientifically known as Papaver nudicaule, is a species of evergreen plant belonging to the family Papaveraceae. It is a short-lived perennial plant that bears large, bowl-shaped flowers that are papery, sweet-scented and held by curved hairy stems measuring roughly 1 to 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) long. The blooms are yellow or white in the wild, but the color of cultivated varieties are usually salmon, orange or pink, though some varieties are bi-colored. Narrow feathery leaves form the base, have a blue-green color, and measure 1 to 6 inches (about 2.5 to 15 cm) long. This plant is native to North America and northern Europe.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Also commonly referred to as arctic poppy, the Iceland poppy has exceptionally small seeds that are best sown outdoors during early spring or autumn. This garden plant prefers well-drained soil and full sun in regions with mild climates. It has very low tolerance for hot weather and can perish in hot summer climates within one season. The plants sown in autumn are the strongest and can live up to three seasons, bearing flowers from early spring to fall.

Propagation of the Iceland poppy is done using seeds. Germination usually takes place within 10 to 15 days in temperatures of about 55°F (13°C). After sowing the seeds indoors in January, the flowers start to bloom during the first season. Blooms can also begin appearing during the winter season in areas with mild winters. The toxic alkaloid chelidonine is found in this plant, making all parts poisonous when ingested.

The Iceland poppy has tap roots and does not respond well to transplanting once established. Its distinctive show of colors make this flowering plant highly favored in rock gardens. The plant is often grown in groups, clumps or ribbons arranged mid-border. People often use this plant to enhance the aesthetic appeal of landscapes and gardens, typically using hedges or foliage of green plants as a background for it.

In floral arrangements, the Iceland poppy is considered best suited for cuttings because the flowers can last for several days, especially when cut just before the buds open. A technique used to make the flowers last longer involves searing the ends of the stem for a few seconds in boiling water or flame in order to prevent the latex from leaking out. Cutting should be done either early in the morning or evening. The Iceland poppy is often used in decorative work that requires eye-catching color effects.

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