Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, pp. 203-204 (1900)
ON SOME HYBRID POPPIES
Monsieur Henry De Vilmorin


The series of hybrid Poppies, of which I purpose to give a short account, originated at Verrieres, near Paris, in the year 1890, in consequence of a cross repeatedly performed between Papaver bracteatum, L., seed-bearing parent, and a double garden variety of P. somniferum, L., which supplied the pollen, a striking feature in the case being that one of the parents is an annual and the other a perennial plant.

The great discrepancy in the respective characteristics of both parents affords an easy means of recognising the fact of the blending of the species and of appreciating the relative share of influence of either parent in each individual hybrid plant.

The first batch of seedlings raised from the original seed-pod showed a very remarkable uniformity of appearance. All the plants were annual, with a distinctly glaucous colour on leaves and stems, plainly inherited from P. somniferum. From the same parent they derived their branching habit. From P. bracteatum they received the strong hairs on their stems and leaves and the great size of their flowers, which were constantly single, and showed variation only in the fact of some of them having the edge of the petals fringed or laciniated, while in the greater number it was plain and smooth. The colour was a deep rich crimson, with a dark blotch on each petal, the influence of the common annual Poppy asserting itself again in the departure from the fiery scarlet of P. bracteatum. In height the hybrid plant surpassed both its parents. The plants in this first generation bore no seed.

A fresh trial was made in 1892 with seeds kept over from the original capsule. They came up freely, and several beds were planted with the seedlings, which developed into plants quite similar to those raised the year before. A few plants showed some tendency to take a perennial habit. Some seed was saved this time, although in very small quantity, and from the annual plants only.

This became still more marked in the next generation, when some plants visibly reverted to P. bracteatum, but were found entirely barren, while the annual plants, with the plain stamp of P. somniferum upon them, commenced to set seed more freely.

From the first some slight variations were observed in the colour and shape of the flowers, which, by selection, were brought to reproduce themselves in a fair proportion. Roughly speaking, one might divide them into three sections:—

(1) Bright crimson, the original shade of colour, with large, strongly marked black blotches; single.
(2) Light, delicate pink, with the blotches much less distinct than in No. 1; single.
(3) Double flowers, never very full, but showing a bunch of entangled narrow petals in the centre, not concealing the broad blotched outer petals.

Such are for the present the principal variations issuing from the hybrid Poppy just mentioned. They are all annual, and partake more or less of the glaucous colour of P. somniferum. They were introduced into trade collections in 1895, and are useful as showy annuals.

But a new departure was recently effected by pollinisation of the original hybrid plant by a distant race of the maternal P. bracteatum, known in gardens as the Tournefort Poppy, which differs from P. bracteatum by the absence of the leafy bracts under the corolla and by an orange scarlet instead of a deep blood colour.

The effect of the new cross was to bring back the plant to a perennial habit of growth; to breed the glaucous colour out of it to a great extent, while retaining the branching character of the stem. A perpetual growth of flowering stems was also induced, in consequence of which the new cross promises to be a valuable hardy plant for the garden, being a perpetual bearer of large bright flowers during all the summer and autumn. It is quite hardy, and being planted out in September stands the winter perfectly, and blooms profusely from May till October. The colour of the flowers is a bright scarlet, somewhat verging to orange, with petals either plain or blotched: they are large and showy, but naturally rather smaller in the more branched plants.

Some other crosses were attempted, mainly with P. pilosum, Sibth. and Sm., and P. glaucum, Boiss., which were manifestly successful, but up to the present day failed to produce seeds, and are consequently confined to the domain of botanical curiosities, while both the annual and the perennial forms of the hybrid Poppies just described may hope for a successful career amongst the objects of ornamental gardening.