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Poppies and ... Huh?

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Friday, June 4, 2010

Poppies in Italy

Photo by Rick Gush

I've set aside room in my garden for Italy's red poppies.

Ah, June is almost here and it looks like we’re finally going to have a pretty spectacular show of red poppies in the garden this year. 

These poppies, Papaver rhoea, are easily the most beautiful weed here in Italy. When I take the train from the coast into Milan on the central plain, I see a whole lot of fields of grain that are infested with this weed, to the point that the fields can sometimes look completely red. The train tracks are also frequently covered with these poppies, and I tried to take a representative photo last week while I was on the train, but all I got were a bunch of masses of blurry red, so you’ll have to take my word for it—these weeds are pretty spectacular. 

Actually, these red poppies grow wild all over the Mediterranean and up into many parts of southern Europe.  BTW, they are not the famous Afghan poppies from which heroin is made. Those plants are much taller, the seed heads are much larger, the flowers are larger and often double-petaled, and the flower color is much paler than the red poppies.

collected some seed heads a few summers ago, and after a few false starts I do believe I have finally figured out how to propagate these crimson beauties. Of course, they are a pesky weed, even in my garden, and I’ve had to cut away some big swathes in order to be able to plant my tomatoes and squashes. In general, my plan is to establish the poppies as self-seeding natives along the south border of the garden, but root them out wherever they occupy space that we want to cultivate. 

Aside from being beautiful, the poppies do have a useful side, because their seeds can be harvested and used as poppy seeds for baked goods. I thought harvesting and cleaning the tiny little seeds was going to be a pain, but it turned out to be fairly easy. I just poked a bunch of pinpoint holes in the metal lid of a glass jar and then filled the jar with a bunch of the crushed seed heads. When I shook the jar, the little poppy seeds fell out through the tiny holes, almost as if I had been harvesting poppy seeds all my life. Ha!  I managed to collect a baby-food jar full of perfectly clean seeds in less than 15 minutes!

Italy plant

Photo by Rick Gush

What is this plant? You tell me!

So, today we’ll have a little contest here on the blog:

The photo to the right is of a spontaneous plant that appears every year in my office garden. It’s a beautiful yellow plant that sort of looks like a frilly asparagus shoot. The yellow shoots come up in late May and then shrivel and disappear within a week or two. I’ve also seen a few other less flashy color variations in other gardens. 

So, what is this plant? I actually managed to look it up a few years ago, but I’ve misplaced that information, so I’m hoping one of you readers might be interested in doing the research this time. If anybody does find out what this plant is, I’ll be glad to send them a package of seeds, either red poppy seeds or any other Italian vegetable seed that might interest them.

(Note: If you wish to compete for a prize, please include your e-mail address in the indicated field when submitting your comment. The Urban Farm Online editor will contact you directly for information on where to send your prize. Please do not include personal contact information in your comment.)

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Poppies and ... Huh?.
Submit Comment »
Interesting
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 1/16/2013 6:55:29 AM
wow I am not sure I have not seen it before
Kristin, upper sandusky, OH
Posted: 11/19/2010 9:34:28 PM
Hello Readers,

Judy- A very good guess! This plant does look a whole lot like a bird's nest orchid.

Rob- Another excellent guess! This plant is indeed in the same family; the Orobanchacae.

Glenn- A great answer! This plant is indeed in the genus Orobanche, and is a parasitic broom-rape.

I've since looked up the name again, and it is Orobanche flavus, known also as the Butterbur Broomrape.


So, what prizes would you all like? I'd be happy to mail a packet or two of some Italian seed, or I could send some poppy seed as soon as it matures in July.

Send an email to uf@bowtieinc.com (put "Rick Gush Blog Contest" in the subject line) to let me know what might tickle your fancy, and be sure to send me a mailing adress.

Thanks for playing!
Rick, Liguria, Italy, AL
Posted: 6/11/2010 12:11:57 PM
I think it may be a bird's nest orchid
Judy, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Posted: 6/10/2010 7:08:26 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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