Poppies are members of the Papaver genus, a branch of Papaveraceae family. These plants are herbaceous annuals or perennials known primarily for their showy, ornamental blooms and milky white sap. The large, nodding flowers often consist of four to six lush petals borne on slender, hairy stalks. Poppies grow wild across the globe. The best-known species include the Oriental, Icelandic, corn poppy and opium poppies.
The Oriental poppy plant (Papaver orientale) is indigenous to the meadows and subalpine slopes of Armenia, Turkey and northeastern Iran. This poppy bears large, scarlet blossoms with blackish-purple centres bearing substantial seedpods. These flowers appear in midsummer, giving way to mature seedpods in late summer. Oriental poppies are very tolerant of cold. They are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone 3, which encompasses southern Canada. They survive drought and poor soil conditions. The plants grow to heights of 3 feet with thin flower stalks emerging from rosettes of grey-green, feathery leaves. Oriental poppies are a favourite of high-elevation gardeners.
The Icelandic poppy (P. nudicaule), also known as the Arctic poppy, originated in the northernmost regions of North America and Eurasia. The Iceland poppy thrives in cold, high-elevation conditions. The plants generally live for 2 to 3 years, bearing flowers ranging in colour from ivory to deep orange to golden yellow and pink on stems attaining heights of up to 2 feet. The petals resemble crushed tissue paper in texture. Their low-growing leaves are bright green and deeply lobed. Icelandic poppies are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9, which encompasses the great majority of the United States and southern Canada. In warmer regions, their lifespan infrequently exceeds 1 year.
Icelandic poppies are hardy in Growing Zones 3 to 9, or the great majority of the United States and southern Canada. In warmer regions, however, their lifespan infrequently exceeds one year. (See Reference 4)
The corn poppy (P. rhoeas), also known as the red poppy or the Flanders poppy, is native to Europe and now naturalised across the United States. This poppy produces conspicuous fire-engine red flowers with black centres 2 to 4 inches across on 2 to 2-1/2 foot tall stalks. In the United States, these crimson blooms grow wild along the edges of highways and fields of grain crops.
The opium poppy (P. somniferum) is notorious for the narcotic qualities of its milky sap, from which the drugs opium, morphine, codeine and heroine derive. This poppy is native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. It grows 20 to 60 inches high with bristly green stems and leaves. Its flowers range in colour from fuchsia and magenta to pale pink to red, giving way to large, showy seedpods. This poppy is illegal in the United States.