Posts Tagged ‘North American Wildflower’

Annual. Papaveraceae. Syn. Argemone platyceras, A. intermedia, A. intermedia var. polyanthemos. A.k.a. WHITE PRICKLY POPPY, BLUESTEM PRICKLY POPPY. North America; Eastern base of the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Great Plains. Argemone is from the Greek argema, referring to an eye cataract, as the sap from the plants was once used to treat that ailment. Polyanthemos = many flowered.

The North American prickly poppies are surprising things. Stems, foliage and even the flower buds are wickedly armoured with thorny spines, yet the large blooms are silken textured and fragile-looking out of all expectation. The weaponry is obviously there to protect against grazing animals, and that useful adaptation has me wondering what purpose the showy flowers fulfill. Perhaps as a beacon and landing stage for pollinating insects, which may be scarce in Argemone‘s desert and near-desert natural habitats?

Whatever the reason for the extravagant floral display, the beauty of this wildflower and its equally attractive relatives is without debate, and it has become a treasured garden annual in botanical and collectors’ gardens around the world.

Grey-green, white-veined, relatively softly spined foliage clumps produce elongated bloom stalks topped by clusters of spiky buds. These bud sheaths break apart to release large, pure white, golden-eyed blooms in June, July and August. Petals are silken-sheened and wonderfully crinkled; the golden stamen clusters release their pollen to colour the flower centers a delicate yellow tint. Pollen darkens with age, tipping the central stamens with burgundy. Individual blooms last only a few days each, but are continually followed by others, for a prolonged period of show.

If you have occasion to snap off a leaf or stem, you will notice the sticky, bright yellow sap. This was once used medicinally by First Nations peoples for a variety of complaints, including eye ailments, and as a remedy against nervous irritability. Argemone polyanthemos is currently used in herbal medicine as a non-opioid, non-addictive, reportedly highly effective pain reliever, similar in action but not in side-effect to that other famed poppy product, morphine. However the body apparently quickly builds up a resistance to the effects of Prickly Poppy’s active alkaloid, argemonic acid, so it is useful for short term effects only. It also is reported to have no effect (beneficial or otherwise) on those already habituated to morphine and codeine use.

Argemone polyanthemos is quite a large plant, from 2 to 4 feet tall. It frequently branches out from a central stalk to form a somewhat bushy clump, though it is in general taller than it is wide. Crested Prickly Poppy fits in well with perennials in the permanent border, or among other annuals.

Reblooms if deadheaded, but leave a few pods to set seed, for if you are fortunate this will self-sow.

Poppies in general are notoriously difficult to transplant, so handle potted seedlings very carefully to avoid disturbing the delicate tap root, and try to get to self sown seedlings when they are still tiny, taking a generous trowel-full of soil with each baby you wish to relocate.

Sun; well-drained soil; drought tolerant.


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Polemonium pauciflorum - Yellow Jacob's Ladder - Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Polemonium pauciflorum – Yellow Jacob’s Ladder – Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Short-Lived Perennial. Zone 4. Polemoniaceae. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas.

This is a Jacob’s Ladder with a difference. Instead of the usual clusters of blue and lavender wide-open flowers, P. pauciflorum produces graceful downfacing sulphur yellow trumpets, blushed with dusky red.

The specific name, pauciflorum, translates as “few-flowered”, but this is a relative designation. There may be few in each cluster compared to the dense arrangements of many of its relatives, but there are many blooming stems produced. So many, in fact, that Yellow Jacob Ladder frequently “blooms itself to death”, fading away completely after its exertion.

Delicate, many-leafleted foliage in lush 12-inch wide clumps. The graceful flower clusters on slender, 12 to 18 inch stalks appear in spring and early summer.

A very nice little plant, rarely found commercially but popular in the “plant fanatic” seed exchange world, which is where I originally obtained mine, from a gardener in Wales. (A rather roundabout trip from its native home in southern North America!)

Polemonium pauciflorum frequently blooms profusely in its first season, so may be treated as an annual, though technically it is perennial. Allow it to set seed and self sow to ensure its continued presence in your garden. If collecting seed for sharing or growing out, be aware that it has a short viability period in dry, cool room temperature storage, of 6 months to a year at most in my experience.

Sun to light shade; average soil and moisture.

This plant's membership in the Phlox Family is very evident from the appearance of the tightly furled buds - something I hadn't really noticed regarding other species. Image: HFN

This plant’s membership in the Phlox Family is very evident from the appearance of the tightly furled buds – something I hadn’t really noticed regarding other species. Image: HFN

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