Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 980 Papaver somniferum

Common Names: opium poppy, bread poppy Family: Papaveraceae (poppy Family)
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Peony Flowered poppy
This is the spectacular double 'Peony Flowered' opium poppy, it is available in purple, red, pink, white and all shades in between.


Opium poppy is an upright annual, that grows 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall, with serrated and deeply lobed bluish green leaves 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) long, and exceedingly beautiful flowers. The cut stems exude a milky latex. Opium poppy starts out life as a basal rosette of leaves that looks a little like a tiny cabbage or collard plant. In late spring it sends up a leafy stalk with a single nodding bud which soon turns itself upright and opens into a bowl shaped flower up to 4 in (10 cm) across. Flowers come in red, white, pink, purple or mauve, and are usually double. Large bluish green seed pods follow the short-lived blooms. There are several selections of opium poppies. One of our favorites is 'Peony Flowered' which has large frilly pompoms for flowers; the pink flowered one reseeds itself and surprises us every spring with its outlandish blooms. 'Hens and Chickens' is an opium poppy grown for its seedheads which include one large one and several attached smaller ones. 'Danebrog' has fringed petals.

Peony Flowered poppy
Simple bowl-shaped opium poppy flowers are as pretty as the doubles and have a similar color palette.


Originally from southeastern Europe and western Asia, the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) is cultivated in many parts of the world as the source for the analgesics, codeine and morphine; and the illegal narcotics, heroin and opium. It is a popular old old-timey ornamental in Europe and America, and its seeds are often shared among gardeners. Opium poppy has escaped cultivation and grows wild in parts of England, continental Europe and America.


Opium poppy has been cultivated for its medicinal uses for more than 6,000 years. This is a very fast growing flower that will thrive in almost any moderately well drained soil. Light: Opium poppies normally should be grown in full sun, but will benefit from afternoon shade in the warmest regions. Moisture: Provide regular watering during growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. Opium poppy is an annual that can tolerate frost as a seedling. Propagation: Sow seeds in early spring a few weeks before the last expected frost. Sow them in place, where you want them to grow. Many opium poppy selections will reseed themselves. Here in our North Florida garden we usually wind up moving some of the little seedlings around to where WE want them to grow. Do this carefully and water well for a few days after the move.


Poppies are usually used as bedding flowers. The strikingly beautiful flowers of the opium poppy are at their best in mixed borders and beds. The flowers are great as cut flowers; they'll last longer if you cauterize the cut stem before placing in water. This is the poppy from which we get opium and its many derivatives. Raw opium is derived from the milky sap that exudes from the green seed capsules when they are cut. The capsules turn brown when they ripen, and the dry seed is used for breads and other baked goods. The curious looking seed capsules are good in dried arrangements, too.

poppy flower with seed pods
The same showy pods that are used in dried arrangements are also the source of the poppy seeds used to garnish breads and rolls. To obtain opium, shallow cuts are made on the pod from which the white latex oozes, quickly turning into the black and sticky opium that is scraped form the pods and processed into morphine and heroin.


There are some 70 species of poppies. Most hail from temperate Asia and Europe, but there are a few species from North America, Australia, South Africa and the subarctic region. Oriental poppy (P. orientale), Arctic poppy (Papaver croceum), and corn poppy (P. rhoeas) are common in cultivation. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is in the same family, but a different genus. Since opium poppy is the source of the illegal narcotic, not all nurseries offer the seed.

Many of our most beautiful garden varieties are hybrids of this species with the oriental poppy and others listed above.


Although poppy seeds are edible, they do contain trace amounts of alkaloids that may cause drug tests to show positive for opiates. All other parts of this pretty poppy are toxic - do not ingest.

Steve Christman 10/9/03; updated 9/12/04, 3/2/09, 3/29/11

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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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