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Discover Different Kinds Of Poppies

Red Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Red Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

The Many Different Types Of Poppy

Fragile looking and ethereal, different kinds of poppy grow in wild places from the hot deserts of South Africa to the cool foothills of Nepal and from the temperate climate of Northern Europe to the tropical heat of Bolivia.

There is even a poppy that grows on Kaffeklubben Island in the snowy wastes of the Arctic Circle, close to the North Pole.

This extraordinary diversity and adaptation means that almost anywhere that you travel you will find some type of poppy growing. It also means that anyone can grow poppies: you just need to choose one that will be happy in your garden.

And What Colours Can They Come In?

Where Do Poppies Grow?



  • deserts
  • moist shady valleys
  • arctic waste
  • alpine scree
  • temperate, arable fields
  • maritime shingle

These Californian Poppies Grow In The Desert

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

These Blue Poppies Grow High In The Cool Mountains Of Tibet

The Unmistakable Seed Heads Of The Poppy

So What Makes A Poppy A Poppy?

Despite their extraordinary range of colour, size and location, poppies all have certain things in common.

To the layman the fleeting flowers, papery petals, drooping flower buds and distinctive seed pods are unmistakable, but to the botanist and the new breed of plant scientists, the real characteristics of plants are found under the microscope and the test tube.

This look at poppies doesn't delve too deeply into the science of plants but in order to make some sense of all the different types of poppy it helps to understand just a little about how they are named and categorized.

I've kept the technical details concise and brief but there are links to more detail for those who might be interested, The one thing I didn't want to do was get in the way of displaying all the beautiful different poppies that grow around the world.

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Mauve Opium Poppy

Mauve Opium Poppy

Understanding The Papaveraceae Family

You will find this very simplified explanation of taxonomy (plant naming and codifying) very helpful if you are confused by the names of all the different poppies.

Poppies are part of a large group of flowering plants called the Papaveraceae family. Plants in this family all share certain visible and invisible characteristics.

The Papaveraceae family is subdivided into 44 smaller groups known as Genera depending upon specific characteristics. Three of these genera contain the flowers we most often call 'poppies'.

These are the names of the three main 'poppy' genera:

  • Papaver: Corn, Oriental and Opium Poppies (True Poppies)
  • Eschscholzia: The Californian Poppy (Desert Poppies)
  • Mecanopsis: Welsh and Blue Poppies (Mountain Poppies)

These groups get subdivided yet again into even more specific groups called Species, so for example the Papaver Genus contains Corn, Oriental and Opium Poppies, and the Eschscholzia genera contains the blue poppies and the poppies of the Welsh mountains.

FamilyGenusSpeciesCommon Names

Papaveraceae

Papaver

P.rhoeas, P.somniferum, P.orientalis, P. bracteatum

corn poppy, opium poppy, oriental poppy,Iranian/Persian poppy

Papaveraceae

Eschscholzia

E. californica

california poppy

Papaveraceae

Meconopsis

M, cambrica, M.baileyi

welsh poppy, blue poppy, himalayan poppy

The Papaver Genus

The Papaver genus is the largest group of poppy type flowering plants. There are anything up to 100 different types of poppy that fall into that category. (note that there isn't an exact number). This is because the categorizing and naming of plants is an ongoing and ever changing science.

As plant study becomes more and more exact, botanists constantly review and update their classifications. We lesser mortals find the basic classifications useful, but most of the time, the scientific details and rationale behind classification is beyond our remit and not that relevant to our purposes.

For anyone interested, the complete classification of the Papaver Genus can be found here, along with common names used in different countries : Sorting Papaver

These Are The Most Well Known True Poppies

These poppies all have one thing in common that the layman can see easily: they all have 'pepper pot' seed heads

Papaver SpeciesCommon NameType

Papaver rhoeas

Corn/Field Poppy

Annual

Papaver somniferum

Opium Poppy

Annual

Papaver orientalis

Oriental Poppy

Perennial

Papaver bracteatum

Iranian/Persian Poppy

Perennial

Papaver Radicatum

The Arctic Poppy

Perennial

The Characteristics Of The Papaver Genus

If you look at the picture above of this European Corn Poppy you can see particular characteristics:

  • A bud that droops
  • Stems and buds covered with fine hairs
  • An upright pepper pot type seed head

These characteristics occur with slight variation in all the poppies within the Papaver Generus. You will find these patterns in Corn, Oriental and Opium poppies and in all their varieties and cultivars.


The Corn Poppy

Papaver rhoeas

The Corn Poppy, Also Known As The Field Poppy, European Poppy And Flanders Poppy


This is the European field poppy: Papaver rhoeas; a wild flower of Europe, and considered a weed of arable land. It seeds itself in poor, dry soil, and grows in corn fields and waste lands.

Farmers considered the field or corn poppy a weed to be eradicated during the second half of the 20th century, with the result that it became less and less common, and the sight of a corn field blazing with red poppies became rare.

More enlightened thinking and less use of broad spectrum weedkillers has led to the re-emergence of this native plant, and it can now once more be seen gracing summer fields and roadsides.