Monday, November 1, 2010

The White Poppy

Two summers back, I came across quite a surprise in the midst of the tall prairie grass.  I suppose I'm pretty decent at keeping my eyes open for the unusual any more when I walk on the land I now know so well, but I was unprepared for the sudden appearance of a stunning plant I'd never seen here; Argemone polyanthemos, perhaps better known as the "prickly poppy", or "crested pricklypoppy"

This beautiful, delicate, perfect white tissue paper of a flower was growing on my prairie in a single spot down on the slope leading to my pond, and in about as dry and lousy soil as I have. A closeup of the bloom demonstrates both the delicate nature of the petals and the contrast of the golden stamens and red-tipped stigma of the flower, but it really doesn't do the flower justice compared to the real-life experience. The blue-green spiny leaves make the plant almost as attractive as the blossoms, although the white really pops out from the foliage around it.  I've seen the plant before in Colorado, where it seems more prevalent, but never seen it here even though it is listed as a Kansas wildflower. It didn't pop back up the following year (it is an annual) that I could find, so now I'm wondering if it was a fluke or whether I'll see it again.  Because of the long taproot, it is resistant to transplantation and so should be grown from seed where desired.  I'd like to try to save seed and grow it in my garden proper, but I may have to seek seed elsewhere unless I get lucky again.

Argemone polyanthemos may be found blooming on the Tallgrass prairie from June through September, primarily in disturbed areas and along roadsides. References sources state that it may indicate areas that are overgrazed, which I would further take to mean that the plant may have been more plentiful on the prairie in olden days when the praire was less managed and was overrun by massive herds of buffalo. The prickly nature of the stems cause livestock to leave it completely alone and all parts of the plant are said to be poisonous. Even the bright yellow sap is supposed to be irritating to the skin, and was supposedly used by Native Americans to remove warts, but I handled the plant without incidence.

Readers of Garden Musings already know that I'm a sucker for sky-blue plants.  And that I lust after the Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopis betonicifolia, which survives about 3 days on average in my Kansas garden (yes, I've tried, even to the extent of putting ice cubes on the ground around it). Now, if someone could just breed Argemone to be sky-blue in color, I might just have a chance to reach Nirvana!

1 comment:

  1. I love these. Around here they seem to bloom much earlier -- after the spring rush of wildflowers. Maybe May and June? It's a wild looking poppy and I've never planted it in my garden but I think it would be wonderful in a wilder sort of area. Thanks for posting the great pictures!


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