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Identifying Poppy Plants

By Elton Dunn ; Updated September 21, 2017
Identify poppies when they're blooming, not afterward.
poppy image by Art of an instant from Fotolia.com

While the most famed member of the poppy family (Papaver) is certainly the opium poppy, gardeners are unlikely to find that poppy--responsible for the drug opium--growing in their community. Several other poppies exhibit the bright hues and crinkled petals but lack the intoxicating affects. Learn to distinguish different types of poppy plants to choose the best varieties for your garden. All poppies bloom in the summer and prefer full sun. Identify them when the flowers are up.

The state flower of California, the California poppy.
Wild California Poppy's image by Jeffrey Banke from Fotolia.com

Note the color of flowers. Are they all the same or different? Poppy plants come in hues of orange, red, yellow, pink and white. If the flowers are all the same hue and they are orange or marigold colored, you've probably found California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). If the leaves are smooth and not crinkled, and if the blossoms are closed on a cloudy day, you've spotted California poppy plants. The flowers only open on sunny, bright days.

Flanders poppy is bright red.
a red poppy image by John Hartley from Fotolia.com

Classify scarlet red poppy flowers that appear alone, with no other colors of poppy nearby, as Flanders poppy (Papaver rhoeas). These flowers have hairy, thick stems and hairy leaves. The red petals feel crinkly and hide a black center with yellow stamens. These poppies only bloom in June and July.

Examine large, shrub-like plants for white and yellow flowers specific to the Matilja poppy (Romneya coulteri). These flowers have six crinkled petals that surround a yellow stamen. Five to eight flowers grow on a single stem. These poppy shrubs grow up to 8 feet tall. Matilja poppies bloom from May to July.

Multicolored poppies? Icelandic or Oriental.
poppies image by Irina Rotmanova from Fotolia.com

Find multicolored groups of poppies with coarse, hairy foliage and stems and blossoms in hues of red, pink, white, yellow or orange. These may be either Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) or Icelandic poppy (Papaver nudicaule). Icelandic poppy grows up to 2 feet tall and grows in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 9. Oriental poppy shares a similar range as Icelandic poppy, growing in zones 2 to 7, but bloom for a shorter time period.


About the Author


A successful website writer since 1998, Elton Dunn has demonstrated experience with technology, information retrieval, usability and user experience, social media, cloud computing, and small business needs. Dunn holds a degree from UCSF and formerly worked as professional chef. Dunn has ghostwritten thousands of blog posts, newsletter articles, website copy, press releases and product descriptions. He specializes in developing informational articles on topics including food, nutrition, fitness, health and pets.