Black Poppy

'Black Cloud' Peony Poppy

"Thou hast the keys to paradise."

- Thomas de Quincy,
Confessions of an Opium-Eater.


'Black Cloud' Peony Poppy is an Opium Poppy. It is named not only for its large nearly-black purple-double flowers, but alludes romantically to the smoky interior of the classical opium den as consisting of a haze or black cloud.

Papavar somniferum has sundry herbal uses culinary, medicinal, & psychotropic. Fortunately or unfortunately, the opium poppy in its gardened cultivars are not fine sources of the Black Tar, & is probably less useful for hallicinogenic properties than the germination of your average narcissus bulb.

This means even a crazy-ass government like our own, which outlaws everything from wild meadow grasses to pet snakes on the feeblest of pretexts, has not as yet lit upon just cause to outlaw the popularly gardened P. somniferum, although I wouldn't put it past some congressional goofball to attempt it before the week is out.

But truthfully the legality of these cultivars is not at all that clear, & on the Opium poppies page I discuss the specific Act of Congress that addresses the sale, purchase, possession, or cultivation of P. somniferum.

Black Poppy buds A few years ago I recall the scandal of the Seattle Police tramping into an old Hmong woman's yard & ripping out what they thought were opium poppies as evidence that Seattle's Hmong population had extended the evil Golden Trangle into the Pacific Northwest.

Never mind that such flowers would've been legal & do not develop harvestable amounts of opiating alkaloids when grown in temperate climates. No, never mind that, because these weren't even poppies. The old woman had been growing ocra, & the city was forced to issue a public apology for ripping the hell out of her vegetable garden & for making racist assumptions about the nature of Hmong gardens.

As point of fact, sufficient alkaloids could be extracted from the milky seedheads into drinking alcohol, even from temperate-grown opium poppies, for the manufacture of a weak laudenum probably sufficient to function as an antidepressant or for mild pain relief. Whether the alkaloid content of this sort of home-made laudenum can ever really be strong enough to have a measurable psychotropic effect is extremely doubtful, but one can at least get roaring drunk on the alcohol component.

'Black Cloud' is an annual or biennial. It grew to six feet tall though I'd expected the forty-inches typical of the species, & it looked fairly remarkable even before bursting into bloom. The stems are thick & erect with many bristly leaves. The basal leaves look quite different from those along the thick stem.

This poppy grew rapidly & in June became so heavy with leaves & buds that just before opening into full bloom, it fell over on its side, to our horror. We lifted it & braced it to a huge rose-bush, & it continued blooming no worse for ware. The blooms are as big as two fists held together, but not long lasting; large pods rapidly develop & the many petals fall loose, scattering their purple blackness on the ground.

Since I'd started with a potted plant I figured it was already in its second entirelyi mature year & I wouldn't see it again, but the following year there it was the summer nice as the first time.

The pods have fat little spines, & contain the infamous milky latex, though not when grown here. The pods when dried upon the stalks should be harvested & stored in a cool place, as they can be sewn the following spring in a humusy sunny location & thinned out as they grow.


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