Iceland Poppy Plant Profile

Icelandic poppies in bloom

 VTT Studio / Getty Images

Are you looking for a bright, cheerful pop of color for your garden? Iceland poppies, or Papaver nudicaule, might be just the flower for you. This flowering plant is a perennial that thrives in subarctic regions, but is often planted in the same fashion as an annual in warmer climates. It produces feathery foliage and hairy or fuzzy flower stems. Its tall stems are leafless and sport brightly colored flowers, each with four thin, silky petals. A specific variety of poppy, Iceland poppies can range in color from red to pink, orange, yellow, and even white.

Botanical Name Papaver nudicaule
Common Name Iceland poppy
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 1 to 2 feet high and 1 to 2 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Rich and well-draining
Soil pH Neutral
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color Pink, red, orange, yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 2 to 7
Native Area Subarctic regions of North America, Canada, Europe, and Asia
Iceland poppy bud
Icelandic poppy bud. Silke Magino / Getty Images 
Iceland poppy bloom
Iceland poppy blossom. Guenter Fischer / Getty Images

How to Grow Iceland Poppies

Despite their name, Iceland poppies are not actually native to Iceland. However, they do prefer cooler temperatures and thrive in subarctic regions. They are cold-hardy plants, even with their delicate-looking blooms. Iceland poppies like rich, well-draining soil. Making sure your poppies are well-drained and not soggy will help avoid problems with fungi or blight.

Another thing Iceland poppies like is plenty of sunshine. They can grow in partial shade, but full sun is preferred. These plants bloom from late spring into early summer and attract birds, bees, and butterflies. To keep your Iceland poppy healthy and continually blooming, be sure to deadhead, or remove, old blooms. This will encourage your poppy to produce more flowers.

Light

Despite living in subarctic regions and liking cooler temperatures, the Iceland poppy likes plenty of sunshine. These plants can be grown in partial shade, but full sun is ideal for a happy and healthy plant.

Soil

Iceland poppies thrive in rich, well-draining soil. Be sure your soil is light, and drains easily to avoid fungal growth or blight. Fertile, rich soil can easily support different fungi, which can be a problem for Iceland poppies. The amount of water these flowers receive also plays a key role in this.

Water

Too much water may be the number one enemy to Iceland poppies. Soggy soil can lead to blight or fungus, which makes for unhappy poppy plants. With this in mind, your Iceland poppy will still get thirsty, and appreciates a consistent watering schedule–just be sure not to drown them. Another important tip is to make sure you do not spray water on the flowers and leaves, as the weight can damage the delicate blooms. Water close to the soil to avoid this.

Temperature and Humidity

Iceland poppies are a hardy plant and enjoy cooler temperatures. They do not handle heat or humidity well, and warmer climates pose a problem for this perennial.

The only exception to this preference for cool temperatures comes into play when you start Iceland poppies from seed. In order to germinate, the seeds actually prefer slightly warmer temperatures and a moist climate. Once they sprout, however, your little plant babies will need to be moved to a cooler, drier area with full light. Otherwise, the warmer, more humid environment could kill your new seedlings.

Fertilizer

One thing your Iceland poppy will appreciate is a consistent and frequent fertilizing schedule. Use a well rounded, balanced fertilizer such as 20-20-20 to give your plant the nutrients it will need to produce its beautiful silky flowers. How often you fertilize will depend on your soil. If you already have rich soil, you may only need to fertilize once or twice. If not, your poppies will appreciate consistent food, perhaps every other week or so.

Toxicity

Although poppies may make you think of poppy seed muffins, all parts of the Iceland poppy are toxic. Certain poppies do have edible seeds, although the Icelandic poppy is not one of them. These plants contain toxic alkaloids, and should not be eaten. Be sure to keep little ones and pets from sampling your plants. Signs of poppy toxicity include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Pinpoint pupils in dogs
  • Dilated pupils in cats
  • Difficulty control bodily movements
  • Weakness
  • Depression

As a result of their toxicity, poppies are an excellent flower for deer-resistance. So if you're looking for a bloom that won't be munched on by deer in the area, consider a variety of poppy, like the Iceland poppy.

Growing Iceland Poppies from Seeds

If you would like to grow these plants from seeds, there are two ways you can do this: you can put the seeds directly into your garden where you want them to grow, or you can start them in containers.

To sow seeds directly in your garden, you can plant them in the fall or the early spring. If you choose to plant them in the fall, they will stay dormant throughout the winter. When spring begins to warm the soil, the little seeds will begin to germinate and make an appearance as soon as it is warm enough. For early spring planting, you can put the seeds in the soil as soon as the ground is workable for the same results.

To plant in containers, sprinkle the seeds on the top of the soil and lightly sprinkle with dirt. Be sure not to cover them too deeply. It is important in this stage to keep the soil moist, but not wet. A warmer environment is best for germination. Once the seedlings appear, it is time to move the little plants to a cooler area with plenty of light. Once the first set of adult leaves, or true leaves, appear, you can start to harden them off by placing them in an unheated garage or greenhouse. Soon you will have a bushy plant that is ready for your garden. Be sure to plant them before they are root bound in their pots.

It is important to note that Iceland poppies have very delicate root systems and do not do well if transplanted. In fact, a rough transplant can even kill your poppies. Be sure not to damage the root system when transferring your poppies from their growing container to your garden. Another alternative would be to use biodegradable nursery pots. This way you can plant the pot directly into the ground without having to disturb the root system inside.