Eleven species of poppies grow in the wild in Sussex

A field of poppies.
A field of poppies.

I COULD hardly believe my eyes some years ago when I saw this field full of poppies at Lavant, just north of Chichester.

I think they were all Papaver rhoeas, the common poppy of arable fields, roadsides and waste places- the poppy that grew on the battlefield of Flanders.

But you have to be a bit cautious rushing in to name poppies because eleven species grow in the wild in Sussex.

That isn’t too difficult when you think that 600 different blackberries grow in England and more than 200 live wild in our country.

How many species of blackberry could you name? I can manage only half a dozen, which is a bit feeble. They all taste good to eat anyway.

But poppies are not often seen anymore so we are out of practice. Common poppies are also called corn poppies, and also field poppies.

They have a big crimson full-blown set of petals, all creased like parachute silk of old.

Their flower bud is easy to identify because it looks like a saucepan with the lid still on.

Opium poppies also have a saucepan lid, but they are huge and pale mauve, and if you have ever flown over Afghanistan as I did once, you do not really think of poppies at all, but of lilac bushes.

The other two big bright red poppies in Sussex are bristly (P. hybridum) which is mainly on the downs in East Sussex, and long-headed poppy (P.dubium). They have elongated flower buds, the former with bristles all over it.

Now we come to the interesting ones.

Occasionally I find that very small poppy, often only four inches tall, with four meagre peals that give it the appearance of a propellor.

The is pale poppy, or prickly poppy (P. argemone) and it sometimes grows around the cornfields of Langford farm at Lavant, together with other rare cornfield flowers such as heartsease and fool’s parsley.

The most unlikely looking poppy of all is greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), which is tall and straggly with small yellow flowers.

It always grows around buildings and is common in villages across Sussex.

But my favourite poppy of all is one which grows by the seaside on maritime shingles and sand. Yellow-horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) is big and bright and yellow and has the most outlandish seed pod imaginable, looking like a green curlew’s beak.

I look for it every year at Pagham, or under the cliffs at Beachy Head, even along the seafront at Worthing. It is a splendid showy flower with its eccentric method of reproduction.

You could probably grow it in your garden if you put it into a shingle tub and sprayed it every now and then with a bottle of salt water.