Gardens Illustrated
10 facts you probably didn't know about poppies

Ten facts you probably didn't know about poppies

Published: May 9, 2020 at 12:34 pm

The poppy is an unassuming but widely recognised flower and it has a fascinating history. Here are ten interesting facts about poppies. Main photo by AnnaÏck Guitteny

Few flowers are as widely recognised as the poppy and people with little knowledge of plants will generally be able to identify one. In part this is due to its tenacious presence both in rural lanes and fields and on wasteland and verges in towns. Mainly, though, it is the poppy's status as an emblem of remembrance that has ensured it is deeply embedded in our psyches. It is an influential flower and it has a fascinating history. Here are ten facts you probably don't know about poppies.


There's not just one poppy

There are more than 70 species of Papaver, in a range of shapes and colours to suit a range of occasion and plant palette. Its versatility is one of its strengths and just one of the many reasons why it such a popular garden flower.

Papaver dubium subsp lecoqii var albiflorum (Beth's Poppy)
Papaver somniferum 'Cherry Glow' © Jason Ingram

Poppies hail from the Arctic Circle

Papaver grows mainly in the northern hemisphere, including within the Arctic Circle, with one species found in southern Africa. They are part of the Papaveraceae family, which includes other genera commonly referred to as poppies, such as Meconopsis (the Himalyan poppy) and Eschscholzia (the Californian poppy).


Sir Cedric Morris bred a grey poppy

Artist and gardener Sir Cedric Morris was a keen poppy hunter and after the Second World War, Morris scoured the Suffolk countryside for variations in the common field poppy Papaver rhoeas and eventually bred a range with a smoky-grey sheen to the petals.


The poppy is a flower that has been cultivated for a long time

As long ago as 2700 BCE the Minoans, a sophisticated civiliation based around Crete, are known to have cultivated poppies for their seed.

Papaver somniferum 'Cherry Glow'
Papaver dubium subsp lecoqii var albiflorum (Beth's Poppy) © Jason Ingram

There are a surprising number of poppy variations

The genus is wide ranging and encompasses species whose flowers can be extremely different. The opium poppy is far less elegant and fragile than the field poppy and produces flowers that are burly and flamboyant.


Some poppies are good to eat

Culinary poppy seeds are a source of minerals, calcium and iron and are derived mainly from the opium poppy P. somniferum.

Papaver orientale 'Beauty Of Livermere'
Papaver orientale 'Beauty Of Livermere' © Jason Ingram

The one you're likely to be most familiar with is Papaver orientale

Papaver orientale is amongst the most widely grown perennial and its typically blousey flowers have made it popular in exuberant planting design. Most cultivars were bred in Britain in the early 20th century by nurseryman Amos Perry.


One particular poppy was found by chance

Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' was found growing on the compost heap of one Mrs Patricia Marrow in the 1980s. Its dusky plum-coloured flowers caused a sensation when the plant was first introduced.


Poppy seeds are banned in certain places

In China, Taiwan and Singapore the seeds are banned because of their potential to be used in to grow opium poppies and even food containing the seeds is prohibited, although the ripe seed has negligible narcotic properties.


They are on the coat of arms of the Royal College of Anaesthetists

Golden morphia poppy heads are displayed on the Royal College of Anaesthetists coat of arms as they represent general anaesthetic and analgesia.


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