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Poppies on Lake Geneva, Montreux

A poppy is a flowering plant in the subfamily Papaveroideae of the family Papaveraceae. Poppies are herbaceous plants, often grown for their colourful flowers. One species of poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the source of the narcotic drug mixture opium, which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids such as morphine and has been used since ancient times as an analgesic and narcotic medicinal and recreational drug. It also produces edible seeds. Following the trench warfare in the poppy fields of Flanders, Belgium, during World War I, poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime, especially in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth realms.


A close-up of a bright red poppy flower
A close-up of a red-flowered poppy
Wild Poppy in Behbahan
Wild Poppy in Behbahan
Wild Poppy in Mazandaran, Iran
Wild Poppy in Mazandaran

Poppies are herbaceous annual, biennial or short-lived perennial plants. Some species are monocarpic, dying after flowering.

Poppies can be over a metre tall with flowers up to 15 centimetres across. Flowers of species (not cultivars) have 4 or 6 petals, many stamens forming a conspicuous whorl in the center of the flower and an ovary of from 2 to many fused carpels. The petals are showy, may be of almost any colour and some have markings. The petals are crumpled in the bud and as blooming finishes, the petals often lie flat before falling away.

In the temperate zones, poppies bloom from spring into early summer.[1] Most species secrete latex when injured. Bees use poppies as a pollen source. The pollen of the oriental poppy, Papaver orientale, is dark blue, that of the field or corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is grey to dark green.[2] The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, grows wild in Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia. It is believed that it originated in the Mediterranean region.[3]

A flowering glaucium flavum

Poppies belong to the subfamily Papaveroideae of the family Papaveraceae, which includes the following genera:

Uses and cultivation[edit]

Poppy stems next to jars of blue, gray, and white poppy seeds used for pastries

The flowers of most poppy species are attractive and are widely cultivated as annual or perennial ornamental plants. This has resulted in a number of commercially important cultivars, such as the Shirley poppy, a cultivar of Papaver rhoeas and semi-double or double (flore plena) forms of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum and oriental poppy (Papaver orientale). Poppies of several other genera are also cultivated in gardens.[citation needed]

Poppy seeds are rich in oil, carbohydrates, calcium and protein. Poppy oil is often used as cooking oil, salad dressing oil, or in products such as margarine. Poppy oil can also be added to spices for cakes, or breads. Poppy products are also used in different paints, varnishes, and some cosmetics.[4]

Poppy cultivators being interviewed in a poppy field

A few species have other uses, principally as sources of drugs and foods. The opium poppy is widely cultivated and its worldwide production is monitored by international agencies. It is used for production of dried latex and opium, the principal precursor of narcotic and analgesic opiates such as morphine, heroin and codeine.

Traditional medicine[edit]

Poppy seeds contain small quantities of both morphine and codeine,[5] which are pain-relieving drugs. Poppy seeds and fixed oils can also be nonnarcotic because when they are harvested about twenty days after the flower has opened, the morphine is no longer present.[4] Poppy cultivation is strictly regulated worldwide, with the exception of India where opium gum, which also contains the analgesic thebaine, is legally produced.[6]


Papaver somniferum was domesticated by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC.[7] However, it is believed that its origins may come from the Sumerian people, where the first use of opium was recognized.[8] Poppies and opium made their way around the world along the silk road.[9] Juglets resembling poppy seed pods have been discovered with trace amounts of opium and the flower appeared in jewelry and on art pieces in Ancient Egypt, dated 1550–1292 BC.[10][11]

The eradication of poppy cultivation came about in the early 1900s through international conferences due to safety concerns associated with the production of opium. In the 1970s the American war on drugs targeted Turkish production of the plant, leading to a more negative popular opinion of the U.S.[12]

In culture[edit]

The girl's given name "Poppy" is taken from the name of the flower.[13]

A poppy flower is depicted on the reverse of the Macedonian 500-denar banknote, issued in 1996 and 2003.[14] The poppy is also part of the coat of arms of North Macedonia.

Canada has issued special quarters (25-cent coins) with a red poppy on the reverse in 2004, 2008, 2010, and 2015. The 2004 Canadian "poppy" quarter was the world's first coloured circulation coin.[15]


Field with Poppies, 1889, by Vincent van Gogh

Poppies have long been used as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death: Sleep because the opium extracted from them is a sedative, and death because of the common blood-red colour of the red poppy in particular.[16] In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead.[17] Poppies used as emblems on tombstones symbolize eternal sleep. This symbolism was evoked in L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists sleep forever.[17] A second interpretation of poppies in Classical mythology is that the bright scarlet colour signifies a promise of resurrection after death.[18]

Red-flowered poppy is unofficially considered the national flower of the Albanians in Albania, Kosovo and elsewhere. This is due to its red and black colours, the same as the colours of the flag of Albania. Red poppies are also the national flower of Poland. The California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is the state flower of California.[19]

The powerful symbolism of Papaver rhoeas has been borrowed by various advocacy campaigns, such as the White Poppy and Simon Topping's black poppy.

Wartime remembrance[edit]

A Canadian remembrance poppy worn on the lapel

The poppy of wartime remembrance is Papaver rhoeas, the red-flowered corn poppy. This poppy is a common plant of disturbed ground in Europe and is found in many locations, including Flanders, which is the setting of the famous poem "In Flanders Fields" by the Canadian surgeon and soldier John McCrae. In Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, artificial poppies (plastic in Canada, paper in the UK, Australia, South Africa, Malta and New Zealand) are worn to commemorate those who died in war. This form of commemoration is associated with Remembrance Day, which falls on November 11. In Canada, Australia and the UK, poppies are often worn from the beginning of November through to the 11th, or Remembrance Sunday if that falls on a later date. In New Zealand and Australia, soldiers are also commemorated on ANZAC day (April 25),[20] although the poppy is still commonly worn around Remembrance Day. Wearing of poppies has been a custom since 1924 in the United States.[21] Moina Michael of Georgia is credited as the founder of the Memorial Poppy in the United States.[22][23][24]

Artificial poppies (called "Buddy Poppies") are used in the veterans' aid campaign by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which provides money to the veterans who assemble the poppies and various aid programs to veterans and their families.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simon, J.E., Chadwick, A.F. and Craker L.E. (1984) Herbs: An indexed bibliography, 1971-1980: the scientific literature on selected herbs, and aromatic and medicinal plants of the Temperate Zone. Elsevier, Amsterdam and New York. ISBN 0444996265
  2. ^ Dorothy Hodges (1952). The pollen loads of the honeybee. Bee Research Association Ltd., London.
  3. ^ Kryzmanski, J. and Jonsson, R. (1999) Poppy. In: Robbelon, G., Downey, R.K., Ashri, A.(eds.), Oil Crops of the World. Their Breeding and Utilization. McGraw Hill, New York, ISBN 00-705-30815. p. 388-393.
  4. ^ a b Kryzmanski, J. and Jonsson, R. (1999) Poppy. In: Robbelon, G., Downey, R.K., Ashri, A.(eds.), Oil Crops of the World. Their Breeding and Utilization. McGraw Hill, New York, ISBN 00-705-30815. p. 388-393
  5. ^ Meadway, C.; George, S.; Braithwaite, R. (1998). "Opiate concentration following the ingestion of poppy seed products – evidence for 'the poppy seed defence'". Forensic Science International. 96 (1): 29–38. doi:10.1016/s0379-0738(98)00107-8. PMID 9800363.
  6. ^ "Licensed cultivation of opium | Department of Revenue | Ministry of Finance | Government of India". dor.gov.in. Retrieved 2022-11-17.
  7. ^ Jared Diamond (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W W Norton & Co. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-393-03891-0.
  8. ^ Brownstein, M J (1993-06-15). "A brief history of opiates, opioid peptides, and opioid receptors". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 90 (12): 5391–5393. Bibcode:1993PNAS...90.5391B. doi:10.1073/pnas.90.12.5391. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 46725. PMID 8390660.
  9. ^ "Opium Poppy: History". www.deamuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  10. ^ "Brooklyn Museum". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  11. ^ "Pochodzenie i historia maku - Baza wiedzy - Melbake's - Najlepsze ziarna". melbakes.pl (in Polish). Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  12. ^ Evered, Kyle T. (7 September 2011). "Poppies Are Democracy!" A Critical Geopolitics of Opium Eradication and Reintroduction in Turkey". Geographical Review. 101 (3): 299–315. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2011.00098.x. ISSN 0016-7428. PMID 22164875. S2CID 27615959.
  13. ^ "Meaning and origin of the name Poppy". Baby Names UK. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  14. ^ National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia. Macedonian currency. Banknotes in circulation: 500 Denars Archived 2009-04-08 at the Wayback Machine (1996 issue) & 500 Denars Archived 2009-04-08 at the Wayback Machine (2003 issue). – access date 30 March 2009
  15. ^ "The Poppy Coin". www.mint.ca.
  16. ^ "Poppy Mythology". www.poppymythology.com. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  17. ^ a b L. Frank Baum, Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Wizard of Oz, p. 173, ISBN 0-517-50086-8
  18. ^ Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 24. 15 p. 96, ISBN 0-14-001026-2
  19. ^ "California Poppy". wildlife.ca.gov. Retrieved 2024-02-07.
  20. ^ Graham Seal (2004). Inventing Anzac: the digger and national mythology. Univ. of Queensland Press. pp. 105–. ISBN 978-0-7022-3447-7. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  21. ^ "Legion Family flower of remembrance". The American Legion.
  22. ^ "Miss Moina Michael". Archived from the original on 2016-10-27. Retrieved 2012-07-08.
  23. ^ World Book; Inc (2003). The World Book dictionary. World Book.com. pp. 1622–. ISBN 978-0-7166-0299-6. Retrieved 18 August 2010. {{cite book}}: |author2= has generic name (help)
  24. ^ United States of America Congressional Record. Government Printing Office. 13 February 2009. pp. 10121–. ISBN 9780160825637. GGKEY:8F7NFQJ525R. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  25. ^ "Veterans of Foreign Wars Buddy Poppy Website". vfw.org. Archived from the original on 2010-08-07. Retrieved 2010-07-29.