Poppies part deux: taxonomical embarrassment

Botanical illustrators go crazy for poppies, so when I was looking for pictures to put in Monday’s post, there was one particular botanical illustration of Papaver somniferum I was looking for–one I’ve seen in maybe a dozen places, so I thought it must be the iconic, quintessential opium poppy illustration.  And I spent like half an hour on Google images, digging through variations on “Papaver somniferum red,” Papaver somniferum botanical,” Papaver somniferum painting…drawing…red…poppy…opium poppy red…opium poppy drawing….aaaarrggghhh!  Couldn’t find it anywhere.

But! I knew I had it in one of my botanical books at home.  So once I got back, I pulled out my copy of Wilfrid Blunt’s “The Illustrated Herbal,” found “poppy” in the index, turned the page, and cried out to JMG: “Ha!  See!  It’s right here, by Rinio!  Why was this not findable in Google?? Everybody loves this painting, it’s like the perfect painting of an…oh.  OOOOOhhhh.  It’s a corn poppy.  Well, dammit.”

Rinio's "Papaver rhoeas," the corn poppy. Not an opium poppy, it turns out.

Corn poppies are the ones from the poem “Flander’s fields” (the WWI poem you may have been forced to memorize in high school).  They grow wild in much of Europe.  And while the deep evolutionary conservation of alkaloid biosynthesis machinery in the Papaveraceae means they probably make a bit of the opiates their sibling species is known for, it doesn’t count as an opium poppy.  Hrmph.

In my defense, they look awfully darn similar.  As far as I can tell the main differences are the anther distribution and color in the center of the flower, and the size and roundedness of the seed capsule.  The foliage looks more feathery in the corn poppy too, but I think this varies among subtypes of the two species.

Why I am not a taxonomist: Opium poppies, Papaver somniferum, var "cherry glow" for purchase from Capital Gardens in the UK.


3 thoughts on “Poppies part deux: taxonomical embarrassment

  1. Hi there 🙂 … Love that drawing too … I was wondering the book you mentioned does that have more illustrations from Rinio, or is it random artists depending on the flower ?

    I am asking as would love to see Rinio’s other botanical drawings, and I am having a very hard time locating a decent collection of his work 🙂

    Thanks for your time

    Thomas, Denmark

    • Hi Thomas!
      Blunt’s book is a full history of botanical illustration, so Rinio makes only a couple of appearances. Benedetto Rinio’s book “Liber de Simplicibus” (1419), was, as far as I can tell, mostly a compilation of another artist’s work: Andrea Amadio. I also find Rinio mixed up with some other 15th and 16th century Italian botanical illustrators, Jacopo Ligozzi, for one. So I’m having trouble tracking down a compilation of his work, too :(. Good luck with the hunt, though, and please let me know if you find anything!

  2. Hi Andrea, thanks for your reply, I will keep you posted if I manage to track down the holy grail of his illustrations compiled 😉

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