How to Identify Papaver Somniferum

Updated July 19, 2017

Papaver somniferum is an annual flower that is considered an herb. There are many nations where the opium poppy is grown under carefully controlled conditions as a source of morphine and codeine. It is generally illegal to intentionally propagate opium poppy, but, as a self-sowing annual, paver somniferum can grow as a weed and persist in gardens that were established long before the prohibitions were put in place.

Examine the colour of the plant’s foliage, as pavers usually have leaves on the green side of the grey-green range. Determine if the leaves are located primarily at the stem, forming a loose rosette, which is typical of poppies. Also take note of the shape of the leaves, as paver leaves of all species are oblong with toothed edges.

Look at the stem to see if it is the correct size for a poppy stem and if it has the slight bristling typical of pavers. Notice the thickness of the stem, as poppy stems are usually about the diameter of a pencil, and its height, since Papaver somniferum is usually in the range of 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall.

Identify whether the plant is in its bud, flower or fruit stage by looking at the top of the stem. Note that multiple buds, flowers or fruits present indicate something other than a Papaver somniferum. Determine if the bud, if still present, is erect or if it slightly bends, or nods, as the latter is typical of a Papaver somniferum. Remember that all poppies have cup-shaped blossoms with a single layer of overlapping petals in shades of red, white, pink or purple, and that all poppies produce fruit that are urn-shaped.


Due to Papaver somniferum’s self-sowing tendencies, they can persist in patches and appear to be perennials.

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About the Author

With a B.A. in English from Rutgers University and a law degree from the University of Connecticut, Cate Kulak worked in law for 10 years before making a career change to education. She currently writes for Our Companions magazine and has sold articles to Shelterpop and Gadling.