While both flowers belong to the poppy family, there are many differences between the Oriental poppy and the opium poppy. The most noticeable differences are in appearance and usage. The plants also have different origins, with the Oriental poppy originating in the mountainous regions of Turkey and the opium poppy a native of Western Asia. Both poppy species can be an attractive and easy-to-maintain addition to UK gardens.
Both the Oriental and opium poppy species grow tall, strong stems that can vary in height. However, while the opium poppy does not often reach a height of more than 120cm, some Oriental poppies can grow to 150cm tall. The leaves also differ between the Oriental and opium poppy and although both grow leaves with a hairy texture the Oriental poppy’s bright green leaves contrast with the dull blue-green leaves of the opium poppy. Opium poppies grow wide yet delicate petals in shades of red, lilac or white. Oriental poppies grow soft, crinkly petals in a wider variety of colours, including orange, pink, purple, white and many shades of red.
Seeds and planting
Opium poppies and Oriental poppies both produce a round, dull green seed head at the top of the stem once the plant has finished flowering. However, the shade of green can vary slightly between the two species. Opium poppies produce a particularly large amount of seeds. The seed of the opium and oriental poppies differ in appearance. While Oriental poppy seeds tend to be dark brown in colour, the colour of an opium poppy’s seeds can be white, black or dark blue. The seeds of both poppy species should be planted in the spring, between March and May, and opium poppies prefer dry, well-drained soil. Oriental poppies tend to thrive in dry soil but some varieties have other needs. For example, Perry’s White poppies also like moist sandy or clay soils.
Opium poppies and Oriental poppies are both relatively easy plants to care for, requiring just a small amount of fertiliser and only needing to be watered during particularly dry periods. However, the care requirements do differ slightly between the two plants. For example, while opium poppies like to be exposed to full sun, some Oriental poppy varieties will thrive in partial shade. Opium poppies will flower once from July to August but the correct care can allow Oriental poppies to bloom twice each year. Oriental poppies will bloom initially in June but cutting back the dead poppies can allow the plant to grow again and bloom for a second time towards the end of summer.
One major difference between the two poppy species is that opium poppies alone are used for medicinal purposes. The liquid that seeps from the opium poppy’s seed capsule is used by pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce painkillers such as codeine and morphine. However, it is also used to make dangerous and illegal drugs such as heroin. The sap is not produced by Oriental poppies.