8 Types of Poppy You Should Know About

Shirley poppies massed together in a mixed flower bed.
David Beaulieu

The common name "poppy" is used for a very large number of species in at least 12 different genera in the subfamily Papaveroideae in the plant family Papaveraceae. Despite the confusing genetic lineage, poppy plants are familiar to most people, who quickly recognize the papery, tissue-like flowers in bright warm colors. Many gardeners have grown at least one kind of poppy. Maybe you're even lucky enough to have a meadow where one of the easy-to-grow types reseeds itself yearly, relieving you of any responsibility.

Depending on type, poppies can be annuals, perennials, or biennials; highly prized or annoyingly weedy; extremely easy to grow or maddeningly difficult. Here are eight varieties to know about, including some you'll want to get to know better and some you'll want to avoid.

Caution

Most poppies are toxic to varying degrees. Virtually all species contain alkaloid compounds that are poisonous and can can cause convulsions, asphyxiation, and death. Ingestion any amount by a person or animal warrants an immediate call to poison-control authorities.

  • 01 of 08

    Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale)

    Oriental poppy flowers.
    David Beaulieu

    One of the most familiar of all poppies is Papaver orientale, the oriental poppy. This common perennial garden plant is a common feature of northern gardens, with its feathery foliage and orange, red, or salmon pink flowers that bloom in June and July. Some popular cultivars include 'Allegra' (a dwarf form that grows to 20 inches), 'Beauty of Livermore' (blood-red flowers, growing 2 to 3 feet), 'Fatima' (white flowers edged with pink), 'Patty's Plum' (plumb-pink flowers growing to 30 inches), and 'Princess Victoria Louise' (pink flowers, growing to 30 inches).

    While people typically grow Oriental poppies for their magnificent blooms, their feathery foliage is also attractive. The leaves disappear in summer as the plant goes dormant, but then a new set of basal leaves emerges in the fall. These leaves will overwinter, affording winter interest (in areas that receive only light snowfall).

    • Native Area: Southern Eurasia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–9 (depends on variety)
    • Height: 20–30 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 08

    Flanders Poppy, Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

    Picture of red poppy growing wild in field.
    David Beaulieu

    Papaver rhoeas is commonly known as the common poppy or Flanders poppy. This plant was known to grow wild in the WW 1 battlefields, and it became well known as as symbol of that war thanks to its mention in a famous poem, "In Flanders Field." This is the bright orange-red poppy that still symbolizes Remembrance Day each November 11. One of its equally well-known cultivars, the Shirley poppy, is a more popular landscape plant, available in orange, pink, violet, white, and yellow.

    Although the Flanders poppy and its cultivars are annuals, they self-seed so freely that they naturalize in a manner that makes them perform as perennials. This can be a good plant for gardeners in South who may have trouble with the cold-loving perennial species. In warm climates, the seeds can be sown in fall or winter.

    • Native Area: Northern Africa to Europe and Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: Grown as an annual in zones 2–10
    • Height: 9 to 18 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 03 of 08

    Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferum)

    Opium poppy seed pods.

    Lex20 / Getty Images 

    Though found in the same genus as many popular garden poppies, Papaver somniferum is one you may not want to grow. This is the opium poppy from which heroin and other opiate drugs are derived. It is available in striking white, pink, red, and purple flowers, and it has distinctive gray-green foliage. It is a taller plant than most poppy varieties.

    Opium poppy is exquisitely attractive plant, but growing it is technically illegal throughout the U.S. and can potentially bring some very stiff penalties. This ban also extends to Papaver paeoniflorum, the double-flowered version of the opium poppy.

    Enforcement of the laws are vague, however, since the opium poppy is also the source of the poppyseed used in baked goods and it is perfectly legal to buy or sell the seeds. Further, it is rare rare for the law to be enforced unless the plant is grown in large quantities and there is suspicion of harvesting it for its latex. Most major seed retailers offer seeds for sale, and few make any mention of legalities prohibiting its use. But before growing this plant, it is best to check with local and state authorities on their interpretation of the legal statutes.

    • Native Area: Turkey
    • USDA Growing Zones: Grows as an annual in zone 3 to 9
    • Height: 30 to 40 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 04 of 08

    Iceland Poppies (Papaver nudicaule)

    Yellow Iceland poppy flower.
    David Beaulieu

    Not all poppies are as easy to grow as Oriental poppy. Case in point is Iceland poppy (Papave nudicaule), also known as Arctic poppy. This is a short-lived perennial, but it performs as an annual only in the north. Elsewhere, it usually grown as an annual, but may not grow at all in any region with warm, humid summers.

    Iceland poppy cultivars are available with flowers that are bright yellow, white, salmon, rose, and pink. Plants grow 12 to 24 inches tall.

    • Native Area: Arctic and subarctic regions
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–7
    • Height: 12 to 24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Himalayan Poppy (Meconopsis grandis)

    Blue flowers of Himalayan poppy.
    David Beaulieu

    Himalayan poppies (Meconopsis grandis) are poppies since their genus is within the Papaveraceae family, but they are not members of the Papaver genus that comprise most garden poppies. Although the shape of the papery flowers have that familiar poppy look, they are a most unusual sky blue color and huge in size—up to 5 inches across.

    Make no mistake about it: These are difficult plants to grow from start to finish. The seeds can be hard to germinate, and the plants require constant moisture (but detest having wet feet), as well as moderate temperatures in both summer and winter (not too hot, not too cold). Unless you are able to mimic the conditions of their native Himalayan environment—woody terrain shrouded in cool mist—your chances of success are slim. If you succeed, though, you have earned notable bragging rights.

    • Native Area: Western Himalayas
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–7
    • Height: 2–4 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Dappled shade
  • 06 of 08

    Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata)

    Plume poppy leaf with scalloped edges.
    David Beaulieu

    Plume poppy is another uncharacteristic poppy, but rather than being difficult to grow but beautiful like Himalayan poppy, this one is not all that attractive but very easy to to grow. So easy, in fact, that it crosses over into the invasive category.

    The flowers of plume poppy are not the cup shape common to most poppies, but rather appear in long panicles (plumes) of white blooms. The large leaves are scalloped and the plant grows to as much as 8 feet tall. This perennial spreads aggressively through rhizomes. For many people, plume poppy turns out to be one of those "beautiful barbarians"—a lovely but dangerous plant that ends up being your garden's undoing.

    • Native Area: China, Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 5–8 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 07 of 08

    Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

    Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    If plume poppy sometimes comes to seem like a weed after a gardener wrestles with it awhile, greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) presents itself a weed from the very start. This common roadside plant is almost never planted deliberately; many plant encyclopedias boldly state "Noxious weed, do not plant" in their entries describing C. majus.

    This short biennial grows 1 to 2 feet tall and blooms with yellow flowers from May to August. It self-seeds so aggressively that it can be hard to eradicate, even in a closely tended garden. Across much of the Midwest and Northeast, it is a dangerously invasive plant that out-competes native species.

    Don't confuse this plant with lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), which is a member of the buttercup clan, not the poppy family. Lesser celandine looks somewhat like marsh marigold. It generally should be avoided, too, although there are some cultivars that are bred to have better behavior.

    • Native Area: Europe, western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 12–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
  • 08 of 08

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

    Bloodroot plant in bloom.
    David Beaulieu

    Wildlflower watchers are sometimes surprised to learn that bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a member of the poppy family. This is a low-growing stemless plant whose leaves and flower stalks emerge directly from the ground. It blooms with white flowers, sometimes tinged with pink, in early spring. Unlike most poppies, which are sun-lovers, this one prefers shady conditions. The common name derives from the reddish-orange color of the sap when the roots are cut.

    Bloodroot is a great plant for gardeners seeking a native species for a shady location.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 6–9 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade