Papaver (Poppy)

Papaver orientale

A fully hardy group of well-loved annuals, perennials and biennials, grown for their distinctive cup-shaped blooms. There are poppies to suit most areas of the garden, from the herbaceous border to the rockery. Most species are easily grown from seed.

Family: Papaveraceae
Botanical Name: Papaver
Common Names: balewort, dream plant, fairy's charms, flower of Venus, Joan silver pin, John's silver pin, marble flower, maw seed, moonflower, poppy, sweet slumber.

Foliage: Long erect, grey/green deciduous leaves. Basal leaves in rosettes.

Flowers: Short-lived, four petal, saucer-shaped flowers, followed by distinctive rounded seed pods. In shades of white, yellow, pink, mauve or red. Some varieties have dark markings at the base. Available in single, semi-double and double flower forms.

Flowering Period: Mid-summer to early autumn.

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil. Drought resistant and tolerant of poor soils.

Conditions: Best in full sun, but will tollerate some light shade.

Habit: Columnar/Upright

Type: Annuals, biennials and herbaceous perennials.

Toxicity: all parts of these plants contain toxins.

Origin: Europe, Asia, W. N. America, S. Africa and Australia.

Hardiness: Hardy in most areas of UK. Annuals usually die after flowering at the end of the season.

Planting and Growing Papaver

Most types need very little care and attention, except the flowers of the perennial P. orientale, which required support.

Most varieties are not too fussy about the type of soil and conditions. All do best in a well-drained, rich, deep, sandy loam and full sun. Rock garden species required a free draining gritty soil.

Suitable for town, city, cottage and informal gardens, also scree or gravel gardens and wildflower meadows.

Most forms make outstanding cut flowers. Seed heads and stems can be dried.

Taking Care of Papaver


Remove seed pods if saved seed is not required.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free. May suffer from downy mildew.

Propagating Papaver

Sow annuals in-situ (where they are to flower), in mid spring. Thin to 12in (30cm) apart. Annuals dislike transplanting.

Sow biennials in-situ in early summer. Protect the seedlings with cloches during the winter months. Thin to 12in (30cm) apart.

Propagate named perennial varieties by taking root cuttings in winter or by division in spring.

Popular Varieties of Poppies Grown in the UK

Numerous garden varieties have been developed over time, providing a wide range of flower colours and suitable for a variety of situations in the garden.

P. alpinum (alpine poppy), white, yellow or red, normally grown as an annual for the rock garden. Height: 4 to 8 in (10-20cm).

P. orientale (oriental poppy), perennial. Height to 2.5ft 76cm).

P. rhoeas (field poppy) annual. The most popular hybrids are ‘Shirley’ and ‘Shirley Double Mixed’, in shades of red, pink, salmon and white. Height to 2ft (60cm), spreads 1ft (30cm).

P. rhoeas commutatum has single crimson flowers with large black blotches.

P. somniferum (opium poppy), has large white, red, pink or mauve flowers from early to late summer. Height 30in (75cm).

P. nudicaule (Iceland poppy) perennial, but mostly grown as an annual in UK. Height to 2ft (60cm).