Corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are charming little darlings whom I let mischievously wander around my garden from season to season, deciding upon a new piece of real estate to make their home. Their eager-to-spread nature is due to their abundance of seeds produced from its seed pod, an exquisitely crafted trinket that releases its seeds in a rather clever and advantageous way.
Drooping, rough, hairy buds emerge on frail-looking, wiry stems from a basal rosette of foliage in late winter. The skinny stems hold the flower bud in a shepherd’s hook, seemingly burdened by the weight of the bud, but instead, lift their heads high and straighten themselves out as the bud begins to break and four crumpled, crepe-paper flower petals unfold. The eye-catching center of a corn poppy reveals a fringe of male reproductive structures called stamens, and the female reproductive organs collectively referred to as the pistil. The cylindrical ovary sits at the bottom of the bloom and is surrounded by petals and stamens on all sides, which protect it during the early stages of formation. A round, stigmatic disc sits at the top of the ovary like a tightly screwed-on lid. It is covered with decorative radiating ridges of individual stigmas, resembling the spokes of a wheel that are sticky and used to catch the pollen and where fertilization occurs. If fertilization is successful, the stamens fall away with the petals. The stigmatic disc takes on a scalloped edge from the profusion of seeds ripening below, causing the ovary to swell with life. The stigmatic disc’s “lid” will eventually pop open at maturity, revealing tiny openings just below its lid for the ripened seed to be dispersed, but how do they get out? Passing people and animals push against it, and the stiff stem bends and then springs back, launching showers of seeds in every direction; or a wind bends the stem back and forth, and the seeds are sown, a few at a time and in different conditions of season and weather.
For more information on growing annuals, see HGIC 1152, Growing Annuals.