8 Types of Poppies You Should Know About

Bright red Shirley poppy blooms in a flower bed
David Beaulieu

The common name "poppy" refers to a large number of species in at least 12 different genera in the subfamily Papaveroideae, which is within the plant family Papaveraceae. Despite the confusing genetic lineage, poppy flowers are familiar to most people, who quickly recognize the papery, tissue-like blossoms 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 the type, poppies can be annuals, perennials, or biennials; highly prized or annoyingly aggressive; and 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.

Warning

Most poppies are toxic to varying degrees. Virtually all species contain alkaloid compounds that are poisonous.

  • 01 of 08

    Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

    Red Oriental poppy flowers
    David Beaulieu

    One of the most familiar of all poppies is the Oriental poppy. This perennial garden plant is a common feature of northern gardens, with its feathery foliage and orange, red, or salmon 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 2–3 feet), 'Fatima' (white flowers edged with pink), 'Patty's Plum' (plum-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 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
  • 02 of 08

    Flanders Poppy, Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

    Flanders or Shirley poppy in a field
    David Beaulieu

    Known as the common poppy or Flanders poppy, this species grew wild on World War I battlefields, becoming a symbol of the war thanks to its mention in the famous poem "In Flanders Fields." Citizens of the United Kingdom don this bright orange-red bloom to honor Remembrance Day each Nov. 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 choice for gardeners in the 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, Europe, Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–10 (grown as an annual)
    • Height: 9–18 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 03 of 08

    Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

    Green Opium poppy seed pods

    Lex20 / Getty Images 

    Though found in the same genus as many popular garden poppies, you may want to steer clear of this one: the opium poppy, from which heroin and other opiate drugs are derived. It has striking pink, red, purple or white flowers; has distinctive gray-green foliage; and is taller than most poppy flowers.

    Although the opium poppy is an exquisitely attractive plant, growing it is technically illegal throughout the United States. This ban also extends to Papaver paeoniflorum, the double-flowered version of the opium poppy. Most major seed retailers offer poppy seeds for sale, and few make any mention of legalities. But, before growing this plant, check with local and state authorities.

    • Native Area: Turkey
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9 (grown as an annual)
    • Height: 30–40 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full
  • 04 of 08

    Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule)

    Yellow Iceland poppy flower
    David Beaulieu

    Not all poppies are easy to grow like the Oriental poppy. A case in point is the Iceland poppy, also known as the Arctic poppy. This is a short-lived perennial, but it performs as an annual only in northern climes. Elsewhere, it's usually grown as an annual, but it may not grow at all in any region with warm, humid summers. Iceland poppy cultivars are available with bright yellow, white, salmon, rose, and pink flowers.

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

    Himalayan Poppy (Meconopsis grandis)

    Blue Himalayan poppy flower
    David Beaulieu

    Himalayan poppies are technically poppies since their genus is within the Papaveraceae family, but they're not members of the Papaver genus that comprises most garden poppies. Although the papery blooms have that familiar poppy flower look, they're an unusual sky blue hue 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're 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: Partial
  • 06 of 08

    Plume Poppy (Macleaya cordata)

    Plume poppy leaf with scalloped edges
    David Beaulieu

    The plume poppy is another uncharacteristic poppy flower. Its flowers aren't the common cup shape but instead form in long panicles (plumes) of white blooms, alongside large scalloped leaves. And, rather than being beautiful and difficult to grow like the Himalayan poppy, it's not very attractive and quite easy to grow—so easy, in fact, that it crosses over into the invasive category. This perennial spreads aggressively through rhizomes. So, for many, the 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, Partial
  • 07 of 08

    Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

    Greater celandine plant with yellow blooms
    David Beaulieu

    A common roadside poppy, the greater celandine is rarely planted deliberately. This short biennial blooms with yellow flowers from May to August, and it self-seeds so aggressively that it can be hard to eradicate, even in a closely tended garden. Across much of the Midwest and the Northeast, it's dangerously invasive and outcompetes native species.

    But don't confuse this species with the lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), which is a member of the buttercup clan, not the poppy family. It looks somewhat like a marsh marigold and generally should be avoided, too, although some cultivars are bred to behave better.

    • Native Area: Europe, western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 12–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full
  • 08 of 08

    Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

    Bloodroot plant with white blooms
    David Beaulieu

    Wildflower watchers are sometimes surprised to learn that bloodroot 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 love the sun, this species prefers shady conditions, making it a great choice for gardeners seeking a native species for a shady location. The common name derives from the reddish-orange color of its sap when the roots are cut.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 6–9 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Papaver somniferum. North Carolina State Univeristy

  2. "Opium." Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice, 2020.

  3. Drugs of Abuse, A DEA Resource Guide. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration

  4. Celandine. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources