The Iceland poppy or summer-blooming Papaver nudicaule is a hardy perennial suited for cold climates as it comes from the icy, rocky terrains of Iceland and the polar regions.
Featuring large, bright flowers on leafless stems, the Papaver nudicaule has become a popular outdoor perennial in colder regions and grown as an annual in warmer regions.
It is part of the family Papaveraceae along with the:
- California poppy
- Oriental poppy
- Blue Himalayan poppy
- Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigdia)
The Iceland also goes by a couple of common names:
- Icelandic Poppies
- Arctic Poppies
Papaver nudicaule pronounced , is an easy-care and easy to grow flower that even thrives in harsh conditions.
While it is an undemanding plant and deer resistant, the following tips will help ensure optimal growth.
- Iceland Poppy Care
- How to Propagate Papaver Nudicaule
- Icelandic Poppies Pests or Diseases
- Suggested Ways To Use Iceland Papaver Plants
- Consistency Secret to Thriving Iceland Poppies
- Poppy Primer
- Iceland Poppy Care – How To Grow An Iceland Poppy Flower
- How to Grow an Iceland Poppy
- Holtasoley – The national flower of Iceland
- If you want the best,It must be Munns.
Iceland Poppy Care
Size and Growth
Most varieties of Icelandic poppy reach between 12″ to 16″ inches tall. It’s a low-growing plant with bushy growth near the roots and flowering stems that reach about six inches.
While the flowering stems don’t produce leaves, the bushy growth below produces tiny, thin leaves that cover the base of the plant.
Flowering and Fragrance
Iceland poppies are available in a rainbow of colors.
The flowers are found with various shades of yellow, pink, orange, salmon, cream, rose, and white.
Several of these flowering plant varieties are even bi-colored.
The bloom time starts in early spring with blooms typically lasting into early fall. The flowers appear at the ends of the stems and produce a slight fragrance.
Each flower contains four delicate petals around a handful of stamens.
Later in the season, the ovary appears and develops into the seed heads. It resembles a small lamp when ripe.
For indoor flower harvesting, the flowers can be picked when they are still buds, just as the color starts to show.
TIP: Sear the tips of the flower stems with a lighter to increase the life before placing them in a vase.
Light and Temperature
While there are many popular plants that grow best in warm weather, the Iceland Poppy prefers cooler weather. It’s recommended for USDA hardiness zones 2 to 7.
Despite the need for cooler conditions, the Iceland Papaver poppy likes full sun but also grows well in partial shade.
It’s a hardy plant that thrives just about anywhere if the weather doesn’t get too hot or humid.
Watering and Feeding
Iceland poppies don’t need frequent watering. Only water the plant when the weather is dry during the spring or summer. During the winter, it rarely needs watering.
Feed the plant once or twice each season unless the soil is already fertile.
Soil and Transplanting
It grows well in poor soil. If the soil is too rich or too much fertilizer is added, the plant will grow thicker. Unfortunately, the extra growth discourages flowering.
If the soil drains too quickly, adding some clay to the mix can help create a firmer foundation for the plant.
It isn’t a long-lived plant. It typically dies out in a few years, eliminating the need to transplant.
In fact, the process may kill the plant. While it’s not a picky plant, it may not survive getting transplanted.
Maintenance and Grooming
Remove withered leaves to prevent plant diseases from spreading to the rest of the plant.
Removing the older flower before they produce seed pods can prolong the bloom.
How to Propagate Papaver Nudicaule
Propagate the plant using Iceland poppy seeds in the fall or spring. It’s a self-sowing plant and tends to die out after a couple of seasons. Sowing the seeds allows for continual growth.
Harvest the seeds from the pods when the capsules turn dark brown and start to open. If sown in the fall, the poppies should bloom next summer.
To sow the seeds in a flower bed, simply sprinkle them over the soil and cover with a thin layer of sand.
If growing the plants in containers, sow the seeds in a plant starter tray. After the seedlings appear, thin them out, leaving two to three small seedlings per tray.
When grown from a seed packet, the plants will likely produce red, yellow, and orange blooms.
The plants can be separated by color, making it easier to propagate specific colored varieties the following year.
Icelandic Poppies Pests or Diseases
The biggest threat to the plant is wet soil. Poppies don’t survive long in soil that is saturated with water. Ensure that well-drained soil is used.
Poppy blight is another threat to the health of this plant. It appears as a fungus on the bottoms of the leaves and on the stems.
Treat the whitish-gray deposits with fungicide and trim away any darkened parts.
Suggested Ways To Use Iceland Papaver Plants
Iceland poppies are almost always grown outdoors, where it’s easier to show off the brightly colored Icelandic flowers that last through a large portion of the year.
The plant also grows well in poor soil, providing more options for placement around the yard.
Grow the plant in rock gardens, near paths, or on a patio.
Some gardeners are growing Iceland in their garden to create beautiful cut flowers.
Consistency Secret to Thriving Iceland Poppies
Last year I learned a few things about Iceland poppies and times to plant. Iceland poppies are those brilliantly colored annuals with the crinkled petals that seem to be made of tissue or crepe. Most are shades of orange or yellow and their thin petals glow like stained glass when back lit by the sun.
They are not considered difficult to grow and are quite common at nurseries, but some people, including me, find them difficult to grow well .
Some people’s poppies stand stiffly upright and the plants are covered with flowers. Others have poppies that are pretty but they lean this way and that and have only a scattering of flowers.
Iceland poppies, and most other spring annuals–calendulas, English daisies, larkspur, pansies, phlox, primroses and the fragrant stock–are usually planted in the fall. But last year, because there was no rain in the fall, I waited until February, hoping it would rain in winter and spring, so I wouldn’t have to water them much. I had to water a little in February, but it rained buckets in March, so my plan worked.
I don’t know if planting late had anything to do with my success, but these February-planted poppies were the best I have ever grown. The problem that plagued Iceland poppies in the recent past was not present in this strain–buds that did not open properly, or at all–duds. These all opened perfectly and they flowered for three months nonstop.
Other things probably had more to do with my success than the time of planting, but I found that there is nothing wrong with planting late for spring bloom. In fact, most of the flowers came after the rains so they were not knocked down by one storm after another as sometimes happens when you plant in the fall and the flowers begin blooming in January or February.
For those who put off planting spring color this year, take heart. You can still do it now. We do not know yet if there will be sufficient rain to end the drought, so it might be wise to plant smaller patches of spring color. My two beds last year held only a couple of dozen plants, but they were centrally located and couldn’t be missed so I got a lot of bang for my buck.
Several years ago, Wayne Roberts, director of the tiny but flower-packed Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar, told me their secret for growing Iceland poppies and following his tips probably made the difference in my small planting. Most of this information also applies to other spring flowers.
“We fertilize and water consistently. It doesn’t matter what you feed them as long as you are consistent,” Roberts said.
So that’s what I did. I fertilized every other week with one of those soluble fertilizers that come as sticky granules you mix with water. I totally disregarded the old adage to fertilize with something low in nitrogen. I gave them lots of nitrogen, even when they were in flower. The formula I used had 20% nitrogen (it says 20-20-20 on the label; the first 20 stands for the percent of nitrogen). All that nitrogen made for big, healthy plants and those plants sent up hundreds of flower heads.
I also made sure they never lacked water, and they needed more than the other plants in the garden. Because I had planted only a little bed, this was not a drain on the water budget.
I watered them from below so the flowers would not get wet. This is an important point. The weight of water bends the delicate stems and the droplets damage the petals.
Rain tends to flatten Iceland poppies, but if you are quick to cut off the bent and broken flowers, they bounce right back. In between the heavy March rains last year, I had a respectable showing of flowers, just a day after each storm. In fact, that’s when I remembered to take a photograph, though the poppies actually looked their best in April and early May. Individual flowers last only a couple of days.
I followed one other piece of advice from Wayne: deadhead. I did this every other day. I made it an after-work routine. Every other evening I snipped off the stems just below the tops of the leaves with a little pair of scissors. If the plants are allowed to keep their developing seed heads, they stop flowering. I suspect that my diligent deadheading made a big difference.
I should also add that they were growing in the best of soils, laboriously prepared in advance by adding several bags of organic soil amendment. I did not get this last piece of advice from Sherman Gardens because it probably never occurred to them–they already had created the best of soils.
I had no pest problems. Possums ate all the snails in our garden a few years back–gardeners with snails had better bait new plantings–and the squirrel did not discover them. I have heard from others that squirrels eat the buds as if they were crunchy nuts.
I finally pulled the poppies out in late May, to make room for some summer flowers.
Because the seed is incredibly tiny, it’s best to buy young plants in small packs at nurseries. I don’t recommend the larger plants sold in four-inch or “quart” pots. The larger plants have not done as well in my garden–they won’t grow as big or produce as many flowers, though they are a good choice to grow in containers or for real quick, if short-lived, color. Buy a bag or two of soil amendment while you’re at it.
Space the plants about a foot apart and then: 1. Water often and from below, with drip or a soaker. 2. Fertilize every other week. 3. Diligently deadhead. It’s that simple–1-2-3.
When it comes to poppies, there always seems to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the different types, their growing needs, and whether or not they can be used for flower arranging.
I thought it might be helpful to break down the four different types of seed-grown poppies that are most commonly grown for cut flowers and explain what makes them different and special.
Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicale)
Iceland poppies are technically considered a perennial and can survive cold winter temperatures, but because they don’t handle heat and insects very well, they are typically grown as hardy annuals or biennials by flower farmers.
This particular flower requires a good deal of care when started from seed because it is slow to germinate and the seeds are as tiny as grains of sand.
When starting seeds, it is imperative that you take great care and barely cover them with the finest dusting of vermiculite or sand. For the first few weeks, bottom water by setting your seed trays in a few inches of standing water and letting them wick up the moisture from below. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally wash away the babies with a powerful overhead spray.
Seed flats should be kept in a warm room or on heat mats around 70ºF (21ºC) until the tiny seedlings emerge and develop at least 2 sets of leaves. I typically start seeds about 8 weeks before transplanting them into the ground.
Seedlings are slow to start and often stall out around the time they need to be transplanted. If left in the trays too long, they will fail to thrive.
Even though plants seem too tiny and delicate to be planted into the soil, it’s important that you don’t let them sit in their trays any longer than 10 weeks. Once plants are in the ground, they will explode with new growth and are typically in full flower about 6 weeks after transplanting. Even though they seem weak, they have a lot of hidden vigor.
The number one reason people fail when it comes to Iceland poppies is that they don’t approach their seed sowing with enough care. This particular crop cannot be direct seeded and must be started in trays and transplanted into good growing ground when the time is right. This is not a beginner crop.
Depending on where you live, you can either sow them in late summer and transplant them out in early fall to overwinter and flower in the spring. If you are unable to fall sow, seeds should be started no later than mid-February so that flowers will be blooming before the heat of summer arrives.
We have successfully grown Iceland poppies in hoop houses and out in the field. I prefer to grow them under cover whenever possible because it allows me to have flowers up to 6 weeks earlier than those planted in the field, and the delicate flowers are protected.
Once flowers start to bloom, it can be a full-time job just to keep them picked. The best stage to harvest Iceland poppies is when the buds are just starting to crack open and the tiniest sliver of color can be seen. This is called cracking bud stage.
Iceland poppies have a surprisingly long vase life, up to a week if picked at the proper stage and treated.
Shortly after harvest, use an open flame or boiling water to sear the stem ends for 7 to 10 seconds and place into water with flower food.
Breadseed poppies (Papaver spp.)
Of all the poppies, the breadseed varieties are by far the easiest to grow. While the cut flowers aren’t particularly long-lasting, persisting just 2 to 3 days in the vase, they make a wonderful addition to the garden, leaving behind the most beautiful gray- or blue-green decorative seed pods that can be used either fresh or dried.
If you want to attempt to use the flowers in arrangements, harvest when they are only half open and sear the bottom ends in boiling water for 7 to 10 seconds. I have tried more times than I’d like to count to get these beauties to last longer, without any luck. If you have any other tricks I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
Breadseed poppies resent transplanting and do best when direct sown. You can plant them directly into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Keep in mind that slugs love them, so you’ll need to monitor growing plants closely.
One of my favorite things about breadseed poppies is that they self seed freely. Once you grow them, you will forever have them popping up around your garden.
To save your own seed, pick the pods when they are starting to turn from green to brown or when the little vents around the crown open. I gather bunches of ripe pods and cover them with a paper grocery sack and turn them upside down to dry in the garage for a few weeks. As the pods and seeds ripen, the seeds will fall into the bag and can be stored away for years to come.
Little envelopes of homegrown seed make great gifts!
Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas)
Next to breadseed poppies, Shirley poppies are the easiest to grow. One plant will produce flower heads for up to 6 glorious weeks, and as each blossom fades it leaves behind the most beautiful miniature seed pods that make amazing additions to boutonnieres and dried creations.
While individual flowers are short lived—lasting 3 to 4 days if stem ends are seared 7 to 10 seconds in boiling water—it’s important to harvest blooms just as they are opening and before the bees find them. Unlike other poppy varieties, Shirley poppies produce clouds of dusty pollen. So if you have allergies, take care.
I love using their tissue paper-like blooms in arrangements that don’t need to last super long, including wedding centerpieces and bridal bouquets.
Plants are vigorous and free-flowering. Of all the flower varieties we grow, none is more loved by the bees than Shirley poppies. Standing next to a row of these flowers in full bloom with the bees working through the patch is a sight to behold.
Shirley poppies resent transplanting and are best direct sown. They can be planted into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.
If you are starting them indoors, just be sure to take extra care when transplanting them out, and don’t disturb the roots too much. Shirley poppies will vigorously self seed if pods are left on the plant. So if you don’t want them as a permanent resident, don’t let them go to seed.
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
While not actually a poppy at all, California poppies are a versatile, easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant group of plants that blooms all summer long. They are well-suited for small spaces and can either be direct seeded or started indoors and planted out as soon as the weather warms in the spring.
Like other poppies, these beauties self seed and will pop up everywhere, even in the cracks of the pavement.
Unlike the bright orange native variety that grows wild throughout the southern and western United States, there are a handful of new cultivars that are as beautiful as they are hardworking.
These low-growing plants flower over an incredibly long period of time. California poppies are well-suited for the front of the border and are great in containers if space is limited. One sowing will bloom all summer long.
For cut flowers, harvest when the blooms are in colored bud stage. Individual flowers don’t last super long, only 3 to 4 days, but as they fade and drop their petals, the new buds on the stem will pop open, giving you a total of a week’s worth of flowers from one stem. These poppies do not require any searing to last this long in the vase.
Depending on how much patience you have and how you plan to use them, you’re sure to find a poppy that meets your needs. No cutting garden is complete without them!
Do you grow poppies? Do you have a favorite variety? Please take a minute and leave a comment below about your experience growing poppies.
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Iceland Poppy Care – How To Grow An Iceland Poppy Flower
The Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule) plant provides showy blossoms in late spring and early summer. Growing Iceland poppies in the spring bed is a great way to add delicate foliage and long-lasting flowers to the area. When planted in the right spot, the Iceland poppy plant blooms from May through July.
Iceland poppy flowers attract birds, butterflies and bees. The flowers of the Iceland poppy plant are usually orange and reach 2 feet (60 cm.) in height and the same in spread. Colors of white, yellow and red are available in more than 80 varieties of the Iceland poppy flower, as are varying heights.
Don’t be deterred from planting this beautiful, easy-care bloom out of fear that it is illegal. The opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) variety is the only one that is forbidden from cultivation in most areas.
How to Grow an Iceland Poppy
Plant seeds of the Iceland poppy plant in fall. Seed directly into the flower bed that will be the permanent location of the Iceland poppy flower, as the plants do not transplant well. If you wish to start seeds indoors, use biodegradable cups that can be planted right into the bed.
There is no need to cover the seeds; the Iceland poppy plant needs light to germinate in spring. Mark the area, if necessary, so you don’t mistake the spring foliage for a weed.
Grow the Iceland poppy flower in a full sun area. Soil for the Iceland poppy plant should be light and well drained.
Iceland poppy care includes a onetime feeding in spring with a general purpose fertilizer. Other Iceland poppy care involves the deadheading of spent blooms for more of the cup-shaped flowers to appear.
You should also water infrequently during times of limited rainfall.
Now that you’ve learned how to grow an Iceland poppy, be sure to plant some seeds in fall in a sunny area, around the same time you’re planting flower bulbs. Plant them in masses for showy blooms. The Iceland poppy flower is a great companion to other spring blooming plants.
Holtasoley – The national flower of Iceland
Holtasoley (Dryas octopetala) is Iceland’s national flower.
Commonly known as Mountain Avens, Holtasoley is found in all regions of Iceland growing mainly on gravelly mountain slopes and moorland. According to an old book on herbs, I found in the local library, its name changes to Hárbrúða or Hairy Doll once it has matured and gone to seed. It’s also known as rjúpnalauf or ptarmigan leaf because the northern grouse like to feast on its leathery leaves during the winter months. Apart from being an important food source for ptarmigans, the plant has an interesting history. Long before it was voted national flower of Iceland (in October 2004) it was used as a herb for its medicinal properties: mainly as an astringent and to reduce inflammation. The leaves were also dried and used as both a substitute for tobacco and tea. Perhaps the most surprising thing I read about the history of Holtasóley – given its status as a national flower – is that it was once known as “Thief’s Root“. This was because it grew in abundance in places where thieves were hung. Maybe, and I’m just taking a wild guess here, it was also named so because thieves might have been caught rummaging for their ill-gotten gains underneath these lovely little mountain blossoms. According to folklore, Holtasoley has the power to attract money from the earth, but what you have to do to get it is quite frankly sinful, immoral and wicked. To get rich à la Holtasoley, one must first steal money from a poor widow while she’s attending mass and then bury it underneath the so-called Thief’s Root where it was supposed to double the value of the money. Not a particularly romantic story about the national flower of Iceland, but it might just explain why thieves were hung where Holtasoley grows.
Holtasóley – Image by Jane Appleton
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Two years before stepping on the moon, Neil Armstrong went salmon fishing in northern Iceland. A picture of him, standing by the river, is exhibited in a regional museum, but the image is so small I first assumed it was just a snapshot of leisure life in the 1960s. Smiling faintly as he holds a fishing rod, the 36-year-old Armstrong could pass for a local—until you consider the baseball cap and fancy aviator shades. And the four layers of clothing.
Other prospective spacemen were around too, living in NASA training camps in Iceland’s interior. It was summer, and the constant daylight obscured their ultimate destination. In the middle of Iceland’s highlands, NASA had found a parallel lunar landscape: no vegetation, no life, no colors, no landmarks. The entire area was essentially a natural gravel field. The would-be astronauts took advantage of it by splitting into teams and playing soccer to unwind after training days, using rocks to mark the goalposts. Walking to the nearest tree would have taken the men days, across the Hólasandur, the black sand desert, and toward the northeastern coast. Even then, the tree, weather-beaten like everything on the eroded North Atlantic island, wasn’t much taller than Armstrong’s fishing rod.
The term “lunar landscape” is popular among today’s tourists when captioning images of boundless Icelandic deserts, shaped by volcanic eruptions, covered in different shades of lava. In the foreground of those photographs, however, is often a peculiar purple alien: the Alaskan lupine. This plant arrived on the landscape not long after the astronauts, and was embraced as an efficient cover for eroded land. But the experiment blew up in Iceland’s face and left a permanent purple mark. Considered an invasive plant today, the lupine threatens not only the existing flora but also the barren volcanic interior, often described with words echoing Buzz Aldrin’s first observation about the scenery on the moon: “magnificent desolation.”
American legend Neil Armstrong trained for the first moon expedition in Iceland, before lupines changed the country’s lunar-like landscape. Photo by Sverrir Pálsson, courtesy of the Exploration Museum
The once-black Hólasandur sand where the astronauts traveled is a purple field today. As the climate changes, the lupine spirals toward places previously protected from the plant by cold temperatures and low rainfall. For some Icelanders, however, this purple flower is welcome. In a very visceral debate, the fight for Iceland’s color has spurred a new form of identity politics. Tensions rose this past summer when communities in eastern Iceland, the faux lunar landscape, called on their residents to join hands and outlaw Iceland’s alpha plant. Even if we all agree lupines are evil invaders that must go, could we actually eradicate them?
Lupinus nootkatensis—known in its native Alaska and British Columbia as the Nootka lupine—is a member of the pea family. In gardening parlance, it’s a nitrogen fixer: it hosts bacteria that gather nitrogen from the air, transferring the gas to its root nodules. Plough under lupines (or peas for that matter) and the nitrogen is released into the soil, providing nourishment for the plants that follow. It’s a pretty and elegant solution to nurturing exhausted soil.
The Alaskan lupine arrived in Iceland in 1945, in a suitcase. What led to its deliberate introduction to the landscape began some 1,000 years before its arrival. When the first settlers disembarked from Viking ships over 1,100 years ago, two-thirds of the island was covered in greenery, and it had only one terrestrial mammal, the Arctic fox. The island’s first humans settled in with a shipload of livestock and adapted the agrarian lifestyle from home, cutting down trees and burning the wood, totally oblivious to the fact that Iceland’s soil forms more slowly and erodes much more quickly than mainland Europe’s.
Those early settlers would have hardly recognized the stark coastline the government hoped to rejuvenate when it formed the national forest service in 1908. By this point, Iceland was ecologically “the most heavily damaged country in Europe,” to quote celebrity polymath and author Jared Diamond. Wind erosion was, grain by grain, blowing the country out to sea.
The destruction continued unabated and in the mid-20th century, when other European nations were rebuilding after the Second World War, the Icelandic Forest Service was pondering human-induced destruction of a different kind; Icelanders had so heavily exploited their island home, logging the native birch forests and overgrazing vegetated land, that only 25 percent of the country’s original green cover remained.
The agency sent its director, Hákon Bjarnason, on a three-month mission to Alaska to gather plants and trees that he liked and thought could revegetate Iceland. The arrival date back home, stamped on his passport, November 3, 1945, marks the birth of our lupine saga.
Some communities have begun to eradicate lupines from their surroundings, worried they’re taking over favored berry patches. Photo by Egill Bjarnason
For the first three decades, the plant lived in green spaces near the capital Reykjavík. Árni Bragason, director of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, says it wasn’t until 1976 that the lupine’s seeds were actively collected and released into the wild, tasked with bolstering the country’s feeble soil. Lupines performed admirably and acted like fertilizer factories, purpling the landscape at almost no cost and without the need for special training: seeds could be collected by anyone, tossed into a hole no larger than a shoe’s heel and—abracadabra—the scenery eventually changed. Maybe forever.
Decades later, I had an inkling of what this purple flower had wrought on my compatriots’ psyche. There is a serious divide between Icelanders, and the wedge is the Alaskan lupine.
In 2006, I was standing at the entrance of a grocery store in Selfoss, southern Iceland, with a notebook and the cheapest camera from the Sunnlenska local newspaper. Here, I waited for people to partake in The Question of the Day, a column in which innocent pedestrians are prompted to articulate, for the record, a view on a contemporary issue they usually know next to nothing about and—after guaranteed intellectual embarrassment—have a portrait taken to accompany the answer. Environmental questions were always tough; no sane person visits the grocery store to discuss the death of our planet. But this day, I struck a chord with what seemed like a pretty lightweight query: what do you think about the Alaskan lupine?
Everyone had an opinion. Many of the people I questioned had witnessed lupine creep in real time. Drive the island’s Route 1, which connects the small nation’s cities and towns, in early summer, and it’s like barreling down a road paved straight through lupine fields, as if the flowers came before the road. They didn’t. Over the years, random people have picked up the forest service’s enthusiasm for the plant and haphazardly brought seeds to towns, valleys, and offshore islands. No Icelander has not gazed upon a field of purple. And many are lupine lovers.
Lupines are changing the color of Iceland’s countryside. Photo by Egill Bjarnason
The Facebook group Vinir lúpínunnar, Friends of the Lupine, with about 2,800 members to date, shows the diverse, widespread support for the lupine among Icelanders. Some members extol the virtues of the flower as a reforestation tool: trees planted alongside lupines benefit from the enriched soil. Once large enough, trees steal light from the almost-meter-high flowers, and ideally, over a roughly 25- to 30-year period, the lupines naturally recede once the soil is fertile enough for other things to grow. Other members embrace the lupine for its aesthetics, posting videos and pictures, never mentioning that the plant is foreign flora in Iceland.
The lupine’s friends are particularly enamored with before and after photographs. And, of course, their ardor is exploited. After visiting the group, Facebook bombarded me with ads for lupine herbal tea, sold in 1.5-liter plastic bottles for a mere US $19, which I suppose is a pretty fair price for something that purports to improve “poor blood circulation, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer,” among other things.
The people at the grocery store answering my question fell into either pro- or anti-lupine camps; there was no ambivalence. Most answers, however, were long and emotional, not dispassionately scientific.
The first two people told me anecdotes of lupine magic; how it prevented erosion and blowing sand and made it possible to plant trees. The third said the lupine had destroyed the view from his summer cottage. The fourth claimed to destroy lupine lands in his free time but was hesitant stating this publicly. Almost everyone predicted two different futures: one with lupines versus one without lupines. The fifth person, however, gave a long rant that I trimmed down to a single question, “Why didn’t anyone stop this?”
As members of the pea family, lupines infuse exhausted soil with much-needed nitrogen. Photo by Egill Bjarnason
The regreening of Iceland has become a balancing act: we want to retain the renowned splendor of our naturally occurring volcanic deserts, but we also need to revegetate what we’ve lost. The lovers and the haters each have valid points.
Lupines cover 0.4 percent of Iceland’s land surface, based on aerial footage estimates. That sounds meager, but considering the country’s afforested land cover only amounts to 400 square kilometers, that’s a lot of lupines. And while planted forest cover is predicted to reach about 1.6 percent in 2085 under the current forestation rate, the purple flowers could potentially spread into the double digits, aided by climate change and human activity. “Exponential growth is the nature of invasive species,” says botanist Pawel Wasowicz, who is the lupine expert at the Iceland Institute of Natural History. The growth curve, he estimates, will see a dramatic peak in the next two decades.
Few countries are as vulnerable to global warming as Iceland, according to the Institute of Natural History, as invasive species have enormous potential to edge out existing flora and spread into the highland interior, which is currently too cold and dry for most plants. This naturally occurring lunar-like landscape could, in other words, disappear. In about 30 years, under the current rate of climate change, the lupine could colonize much of the highland, suggests a research paper published in the journal Flora in 2013. Naturalist and former member of parliament Hjörleifur Guttormsson, who is 82 and one of the earliest opponents of the plant, says, “Everything but the glaciers are potential lupine land.”
Its ability to grow in poor soil has allowed lupine to spread rapidly in Iceland. Photos by Egill Bjarnason
“We are at the point of no return,” agrees Bragason. “The best thing we can do is reach a consensus about where the plant should be. That has been hard, too.” In Bragason’s opinion, the ideal lands for lupines are damaged coastal areas with natural borders like mountains and rivers. There, the positive effects can be both short and long term: preventing sandstorms and creating soil for reforestation. Near the Hekla volcano, where frequent eruptions over the centuries have destroyed a vast birch tree forest, the Soil Conservation Agency has successfully resurrected parts of the forest with lupine magic. Using native plants and fertilizers would have been slower and more expensive.
Few regions have the resources to prevent the great lupine land grab. Killing the plant, apparently, is a three- to five-year process. Typing lúpína drepa—lupine kill—into my search engine landed me on blogs peppered with militaristic phrases about the process. The lupine, it seems, makes its enemies among the public when it messes with their neighboring berry land. Armed with grass trimmers, communities in Iceland are joining forces to beat back the invaders. Their method is to cut lupines at the beginning of summer, before the plant forms seeds and when the root is likely to die from trimming. This past summer, three towns in eastern Iceland loaned out grass trimmers to anyone who wished to partake in the killing spree, an event planned as an annual assassination “until the plant is outlawed, at least from our nature reserves,” says Anna Samúelsdóttir, director of environmental policy at the Fjardabyggd municipality, which leads the eradication charge. Her efforts made national news because such coordinated missions, with high participation rates, are a new phenomenon in Iceland.
Which came first: lupines or the road? Photo by Egill Bjarnason
“People see how lupine land grows like a snowball,” Samúelsdóttir says. In fact, over a 15-year period, the plant has spread up to 35-fold in parts of eastern Iceland, mostly on land already vegetated with native flora. “Look down in the middle of a lupine field and you won’t even see the ground, the flower bed is so thick. Crowberries and blueberries and dryas—they’re gone.”
Meanwhile, on the lupine lobby Facebook group, Samúelsdóttir’s move to outlaw the controversial plant was received as a declaration of botanical warfare. “Cut them all they want,” one member wrote, hinting at the kind of guerrilla tactics the lupine activists employ. “I will just visit the same area with a pocket of seeds.” Another suggested eastern Icelanders’ lupine-free ambition was a testament to their xenophobia; they were suspicious of anything foreign born.
Nine of the 12 men who set foot on the moon between 1969 and 1972 first came to Iceland to study the geology, the idea being that it would help them understand the moon’s geology when they visited. NASA had originally drawn the parallel from images taken by a space probe orbiting Earth’s satellite years before; the lunar highlands (seen from afar as the lighter surface regions) looked like Iceland’s desolate interior. On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 landed back on Earth with a geological sample—a slice of the moon. The resemblance to Iceland was superficial.
When the Indiana Jones-like forestry director Hákon Bjarnason arrived from his Alaskan endeavors in 1945, fresh off the plane, he told a reporter that with some effort, Iceland could look a lot more like coastal Alaska, with tall trees and lots of blueberry bushes. The two places had a strikingly similar climate. But, again, it turned out the similarities were superficial.
In hindsight, the overconfidence is understandable. In 1945 and the decades that followed, we were on a technological roll, an era in which we thought we could conquer nature, even defy gravity by launching men to the moon. No one could foresee the tenacity of a pretty flower, no one could foresee a purple Iceland.
If you want the best,It must be Munns.
Iceland Poppies don’t really come from Iceland. They come from Siberia, another place with extreme temperatures, but they’ll bloom well in both hot and very cold climates if sown at the right times.
Plant poppies in early autumn and they’ll flower at the beginning of winter. If kept well fed and watered, and the seed heads are nipped off, they will continue blooming until Christmas. They flower longer in a cool climate whereas hot weather and longer days means they put most of their energy into forming seed heads, not new flowers.
Sow seeds on top of garden beds and sprinkle them lightly with soil. They shouldn’t be planted deeply. Make sure your chosen area is weed-free. If you’re sowing from punnets of seedlings, plant them about a hand-span apart. You’ll need about 20 plants per square metre for a thick display, as the stems are thin (and hairy). They also grow beautifully in big pots.
To get the most stunning and long-lasting display of Icelandic Poppies, pick off the first flower buds so that the plants are strong and sturdy before they bear their first blooms. Just twist off the tiny bulges in the middle of the rosette with your fingers.
The second trick is to water often, and feed them every week with a soluble fertiliser designed for maximum flower production. Once seedlings are about 10cm high, stop feeding them high-nitrogen, water-soluble fertilisers and swap to using high-potassium, water-soluble fertilisers. This will promote long flowering and slow down growth. If you garden organically, a mulch of good homemade compost will probably be all they need.