Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1300 Papaver orientale

Common Names: oriental poppy Family: Papaveraceae (poppy Family)
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oriental poppy
Oriental poppy flower produces huge brilliantly colored flowers in late spring and early summer.


Oriental poppies spread on short runners, producing clumps of upright stems 18-36 in (45-90 cm) tall. The stems, which bleed a milky sap when cut, are clad in whitish bristles and have leaves (mostly basal) that are about a foot (30 cm) long. The leaves are simple, but deeply lobed with segments that cut almost to the midrib, giving the appearance of a pinnately compound leaf. The lobes are lance shaped and coarsely toothed on their margins. The solitary flowers, borne on long stalks in early summer, start out as nodding buds, but gaze up to the sky when they open. The brilliant red-orange flowers are cup shaped and fully 4-6 in (10-15 cm) across. There are 4-6 petals, each decorated with a black blotch at its base. The seed capsule, a little woody urn topped with curious wheel spokes, releases near-microscopic seeds that can be carried on the wind.

There are dozens of oriental poppy cultivars, many of which are actually hybrids with scarlet poppy (P. bracteatum) and/or other poppy species. Cultivars are available with white, red, orange, salmon, pink or two-toned flowers. There are double flowered varieties, dwarf varieties, tall ones, and some with ruffled petals. ‘Black and White’ has white petals with black marks. ‘Beauty of Livermore’ has huge brilliant red flowers, to 8 in (20 cm) across. ‘Album’ has white petals. ‘Arwide has white petals with orange veins and black spots. ‘Allegro’ is a shorty, to just 20 in (50 cm) tall, with large orange flowers sporting black marks on its petals. ‘China Boy’ has ruffled petals that are orange with white basal smudges. The petals of ‘Carousel’ are white with orange margins.


Papaver orientale is native to northern Iran, eastern Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. Oriental poppy (including its cultivars and hybrids) is the most popular poppy in cultivation in North America.


Light: Poppies should be positioned in full sun. Moisture: Oriental poppy thrives in deep, fertile soils that are well drained, but not excessively so. Soils that stay wet, especially in winter, are not suitable. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8 . Oriental poppies suffer in hot, humid climates. Although they might survive the heat and humidity of southern summers, they are not well suited south of Zone 7, where they are likely to break dormancy during a warm spell in the fall, and then get killed by a frost. Propagation: Divide root clumps or take root cuttings in winter or spring. Sow seeds in containers or in situ, but be advised that seeds of cultivars will not necessarily come true.

oriental poppy
Flowers, flower bud and seed pod are all present on this poppy plant in early summer.


Plant oriental poppies singly or in small groups. They often are used in mixed borders and in beds with other herbaceous flowers. Few flower shows are more arresting than a threesome of flamboyant red poppies dancing in the breeze. It is a pity their flowering period is so brief. Oriental poppies go dormant and vanish in midsummer, so mix them with other perennials that bloom later in the season to fill in the gaps.

Oriental poppies are longer lived than other poppy species, and they resent transplanting. Nevertheless, they should be divided every 3-5 years, even though this will likely reduce flowering for the upcoming season.

For cut flowers, it’s best to take while still in bud. Sear the cut end of the stem with a flame to reduce sap bleeding. The dried seed pods are attractive in arrangements.


There are some 50-70 species of poppies (genus Papaver) and many hundreds of cultivars and hybrids. Check out Floridata’s profiles of opium poppy (P. somniferum) and Iceland poppy (P. nudicaule).

Steve Christman 1/13/18

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Papaver species profiled on Floridata:

Papaver nudicaule

( Icelandic poppy, Arctic poppy )

Papaver orientale

( oriental poppy )

Papaver somniferum

( opium poppy, bread poppy )

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