Eye On Life Magazine

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Eye on Life Magazine is a Lifestyle and Literary Magazine.  Enjoy articles on gardening, kitchen cooking, poetry, vintage decor, and more.

All In The Plant Family - The Poppy Family

I believe to know a plant’s name and recognize it’s family members, is to love it. Some plants are literally crying out in their beauty for our love and attention. How many plants or flowers do you know by name? The average number of plants for most people to be able to name is around fifty.   If that is so, that is just a small portion of the known plants on earth today. Here’s another plant family that you should get to know better.


The scarlet poppies of France, California, and Belgium and the white, purple-centered opium poppy (once our most common garden poppy) have four petals, two early falling sepals, numerous stamens and a peculiar, plump pistil, with the stigmas flat on the roof of the pistil, like the spokes of a wheel. The pistil develops into a fruit shaped like an antique vase, which acts like a salt cellar, letting a few seeds drop out each time the plant is shaken by the wind.

Most of the members of this plant family have milky or colored sap. Two members of this unique plant family, the Greater Celandine and the narrow-petaled Bloodroot, have pods that split open instead of acting like salt cellars. The Celandine has yellow flowers and yellow sap, while the Bloodroot has numerous white petals and red juice.

The flower color of poppy species include:

  • white
  • pink
  • purple
  • yellow
  • orange
  • red
  • black   
  • blue

Many of the species that have been cultivated for many years and also include many other colors ranging from dark solid colors to soft pastel shades. Some have dark center markings.  The center of the flowers also have a whorl of stamens that are surrounded by a cup- or bowl-shaped collection of four to six petals. Prior to blooming, the petals are crumpled in bud, and as blooming finishes, the petals often lie flat before falling away.

Bees love poppy, so aside from being a beautiful garden flower, they are a great pollen source.   Some of the more popular varieties of poppies include:

  • California poppy (Eschscholzia) — California state flower
  • Celandine-poppy (Stylophorum)- Also known under the common names of mock poppy, yellow-poppy, and wood-poppy.
  • Desert bearpaw-poppy (Hunnemannia)
  • Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis)
  • Iceland poppy (Papaver)
  • Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) — dark blue (sometimes gray) — also known as the opium poppy or corn poppy that includes over one hundred and twenty different species.
  • Matilija poppy (Romneya)
  • Tulip Poppy (Dendromecon)
  • Welsh poppy

Poppies make especially attractive garden additions and most sold today in garden centers and nurseries are all ornamental garden plants.  It should be noted that poppies are sources of both drugs and food.   Use of poppy seeds in cooking and baking, in addition to poppy seed oil are an important economy in some countries.  Some of the Papeaver somniferum varieties (opium poppies), are controlled substances.

Since their popularity as a flower have been widely accepted for centuries, poppies have come to symbolize sleep (thanks to the opium) and to also be an icon for death in some cultures (blood-red color), often appearing on tombstones and other grave markings.  Poppies have enjoyed their place both in poetry and in Greco-Roman mythology, particularly in signifying eternal life after death.  In more modern literature, poppies became magically dangerous (as in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). 

Of course, I’d be remiss if I did not remind you that the red-flowered Corn poppy is the war time symbol often found in literature, made famous by this excerpt of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) of the Canadian Army —

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 How To Recognize This Plant Family

  • The Poppy’s real family name is Papaveraceae.
  • It is usually found in temperate and subtropical places.
  • It is primarily a herbaceous plant, however, some varieties are both shrubs and small trees.
  • Poppies are laticiferous (meaning that they produce a milky substance that can be white, yellow, or even red).
  • All poppies have simple leaves that are alternate.
  • Some poppies have whorled leaves.
  • All poppy leaves have petioles and are not contained by a sheath.
  • Poppy leaves are mostly lobed, or divided.
  • Poppy leaves have no stipules.
  • Almost all poppies must have insects to be pollinated, however a few varieties depend upon the wind.
  • The flowers are medium to large in size.
  • The flowers have a distinct calyx and corolla (with one exception, the Macleaya that does not contain a corolla).
  • The terminal flowers are singular.
  • The flowers are odourless.
  • Poppies have many stamens (usually sixteen to sixty) that are arranged in two distinct whorls.
  • The outer whorl contains the stamens which are alternate to the petals.
  • The inner whorl is opposite.
  • The poppy gynoecium has a single compound pistal (with two to one hundred carpels).
  • The fruit of the poppy is most likely to be a capsule.  Upon maturity it will release the seeds.
  • All poppies contain alkaloids and many varieties are poisonous both to man and animals.  They are toxic enough that if an animal eats them, their milk is tainted and will also be toxic to their young and to mankind.