In late spring and early summer, carpets of deep-red poppy anemones in full bloom are one of the most magnificent adornments of arid and semi-arid areas in the eastern Mediterranean, as far west as Iraq. As might be expected from such prominent displays, poppy anemones have been incorporated into the myths and folklores of many of the region's cultures.
Poppy anemones have also attracted the attentions of gardeners worldwide. They were introduced to Britain before the end of the sixteenth century, becoming one of the so-called 'florists' flowers'. 'Florists' collected and marketed vast numbers of different mutants of favoured species, attracting the displeasure of Carolus Linnaeus. In 1665, John Rea described dozens of sorts of single and double poppy anemones in European gardens. A century later interest had waned, 'although there is scarcely any plant that is capable of rendering the flower garden so gay in the spring'.
Poppy anemones are herbaceous perennials that overwinter as black, underground tubers. In natural populations flowers typically have red 'petals' and are a few centimetres in diameter. Morphological variation across the species' natural range is high, producing a proliferation of different scientific names. Today, much of this variation has been divided into six named botanical varieties.
Breeders have taken advantage of the range of natural colour variation to produce plants with white through pink and red to purple and blue flowers. Poppy anemone flower colour is the consequence of variation in vacuolar acidity and the concentrations of three different anthrocyanin pigments (cyanidin, delphinidin, pelargonidin). In the hands of breeders, flower diameters have also increased, reaching nearly ten centimetres in some cultivars.
Despite their generic name, poppy anemones are not pollinated by the wind; they are pollinated by insects. Anemone coronaria is one of a Mediterranean group of species (the 'poppy guild') with large, red, bowl-shaped flowers; other 'poppy guild' members include poppies, red-flowered buttercups and tulips. The 'poppy guild' is primarily pollinated by a particular family of scarabid beetles (Glaphyridae).
The beetles use the anemone flowers for food (pollen) and as sites for mating. However, female beetles are not found on all flowers; they are more likely to be found in large, pollen-producing flowers. Based on experimental studies it had been hypothesised that male beetles use plant-based cues, such as flower diameter, to increase their chances of finding a mate before finessing the search strategy using cues produced by female beetles, e.g., pheromones.
Keasar T et al. 2010. Red anemone guild flowers as focal places for mating and feeding by Levant glaphyrid beetles. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 99: 808-817.
Laura M and Allavena A 2007. Anemone coronaria breeding: current status and perspectives European Journal of Horticultural Science 72: 241-247.
Saoud NS et al. 2007. Phenetic analysis of Anemone coronaria (Ranunculaceae) and related species. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 153: 417-438.