Prickly Blue-Poppy - Meconopsis horridula

Commonly known as Prickly Blue-Poppy, and Tibetan Poppy, Meconopsis horridula (Ranunculales - Papaveraceae) is an unusual bristly poppy with gorgeous, floppy, blue, tissue-paper flowers. The epithet “horrid” obviously applies to the spiny looking stems and certainly not to the striking cobalt-blue, ivory-eyed flowers.

This is an alpine species which occurs in the Himalayan region. It has been used as a traditional Tibetan medicine to “clear away heat, relieve pain, and mobilize static blood”. Currently chemical investigations on this species has led to the isolation and structural identification of 40 compounds, including several flavonoids, alkaloids and  terpenoids. 

References: [1] - [2] - [3] - [4]

Photo credit: ©Nobuhiro Suhara | Locality: Osaka, Japan (2015)

Blue Himalayan Poppy by Carrie Cole
Via Flickr:
The Blue Himalayan Poppies are blooming at Butchart Gardens and thus my subject for the most part of my visit to the gardens today. Here they take on an almost translucent appearance as the soft light filters through the trees and landing on the delicate petals. Shot with Sony A7 and Pentax SMC 50 1.4. Love this old lens.
Opium Made Easy
Last season was a strange one in my garden, notable not only for the unseasonably cool and wet weather—the talk of gardeners all over New England—but also for its climate of paranoia. One flower was the cause: a tall, breathtaking poppy, with silky scarlet petals and a black heart, the growing of which, I discovered...

I love this Michael Pollan piece, and it certainly has some relevance to my garden as it is this year:

My neighbour told me she was cultivating Meconopsis, which the more-botanically-inclined among you will know as the “Himalayan Blue Poppy.”

This flower – though in the poppy family – produces no opiate compounds.

Thinking I was gathering seed from her Meconopsis plants (I never saw them bloom), I took a few dry seed heads at the end of the last season, saved them over winter…

…and sowed them on my crescent-shaped hügelkultur bed by the swale in February, along with an array of other flowers and grasses.

It hadn’t occurred to me that the flowers I planted were anything other than the blue poppy: I hadn’t looked up foliage characteristics to try and positively identify the hundreds of seedling plants that popped up.

However, I was walking by her garden the other day, and I noticed the most sublime stand of enormous pink poppy flowers.

I studied the blossom and the foliage with new eyes, and sure enough, the neighbour is cultivating Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. Either she didn’t want me to know, or she was told this was a ‘harmless’ poppy and repeated that to me in good faith.

Upon my return home, I ascertained that the poppies I have planted bear no resemblance in their foliage to Meconopsis.

Long story short: this is how I ended up with a few hundred opium poppies on the cusp of blooming in my yard!


Student Exhibition Garden Feature: Quest for Color

Second year students in the Professional Gardener Program have the great honor of creating garden designs to be planted in the Student Exhibition Garden within the Idea Garden at Longwood. The SEG showcases the gardening skills and creativity of the class developed over the course of the program’s two-year curriculum. Designs are selected for four co-managed plots, wherein students are wholly responsible for every part of the conceptual, schematic, procurement, installation, maintenance and eventual tear-out process. The exposure it provides, the responsibility we are given, and the support we receive by Longwood professionals throughout combine to make a truly singular experience and opportunity. Each year, narratives and garden themes must be developed to fit a design challenge. The 2016 theme is Plant Exploration, a longstanding tradition at botanical gardens worldwide, and at Longwood Gardens still today.

The first of four features is ‘Quest for Color’ by teammates Sarah Dominsky, Jason Wirtz and Martha Keen. ‘Quest for Color’ celebrates the beauty of color and the importance of blue in the garden as a cherished design element. This garden was inspired by the fleeting nature of the Meconopsis betonicifolia, or Himalayan blue poppy which can be found in the Longwood Conservatory only during the early weeks of March. Its first viable seed was discovered in Tibet in 1922 by Francis Edwin Kingdon an English botanist, writer and explorer. 

Today with advances in plant breeding and genetics, we have the ability to replicate many colors. However the complexity and difficulty in producing a true blue flower still exists. ‘Quest for Color’ celebrates these advances in horticultural technology as well as pays gratitude to nature’s ability to produce such amazing natural beauty. Just like the Meconopsis, this design creates appreciation for rare and unusual colors and combinations of horticultural specimens, as well as the value of seasonal transformations in gardens. We recognize the fleeting nature of certain colors in the garden, which purposefully shifts as the season progresses from blue to orange and back again. 

Photos copyright Sarah Dominsky and Martha Keen