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.”
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.