Everything You Need to Know About Poppy Flowers

Poppies produce papery, cup-shaped flowers in a wide range of colors from the traditional red remembrance poppy to sunny yellow-orange California poppy. These flowers range in heights from 9 inches to 2 feet or more, depending on the cultivar. What’s more, due to the fact poppies self-seed readily, these beautiful flowers can be annuals, perennials, or biennials. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about poppy flower meaning and symbolism, their rich history and origins; popular types and cultivars, and suitable gifting occasions today. 


Poppy Flower Meaning & Symbolism

The poppy flower is an enduring symbol of remembrance and hope, particularly in recognition of the Armed Forces around the world. The Ancient Greeks associated poppies with abundance and fertility while modern symbolism is typically one of remembrance.

About Poppy Flowers

About Poppy Flowers

The Poppy – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

Poppies are members of the Papaveraceae family which includes a wide variety of flowering plants and shrubs. The common poppy belongs to the genus ‘Papaver’ which includes nearly 100 species of flowering plants.

Botanical Characteristics

While the image of flowing fields of red poppies is probably what most people visualize when they hear the name poppy, poppies come in many colors. Colors range from white, ivory, and cream to shades of yellow, orange, and red, and can even be shades of pink, purple and blue. 

Poppy flowers typically showcase four or six-petaled flowers with lots of stamens around the ovary of the bloom. The foliage of these flowering plants is considered lacy or fern-like.

Etymological Meaning

The poppy gets its name from the Latin word ‘pappa” meaning milk. This is in reference to the cut flower stems that leak a sticky, latex sap that looks like milk.

What regions are Poppy flowers native to?

Poppies grow wild throughout the globe from deserts to the tundra, says American Meadows. Most are native to the Northern Hemisphere.

When are Poppy flowers in season?

Poppies bloom in early to midsummer throughout the U.S.


There are hundreds of different poppy varieties in the family of flowering plants Papaveraceae. Some of the most popular grown and cultivated include: 

1) Oriental Poppies (Papaver ‘Orientale’)

Oriental Poppies (Papaver 'Orientale')

Oriental poppies are a popular choice for home gardens as they thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 9. 

The Oriental poppy showcases feathery, green foliage that is attractive on its own, but it is the blooms that steal the show. 

Papery flowers open in June and July creating a color sensation in the flower garden. They reach heights of 1 ½ to 3 feet, depending on the cultivar.

2) Iceland Poppy (Papaver ‘nudicaule’)

Iceland Poppy (Papaver 'nudicaule')

This striking poppy likes the cold and does not fare well in warm regions. These poppies are hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 7. The Iceland Poppy produces white, yellow, pink, rose, and salmon blooms in midsummer. 

This variety grows to 12 to 24 inches tall and prefers full sun and can be grown as an annual in warmer regions.

3) Red Poppies (Papaver ‘rhoeas’)

Red Poppies (Papaver 'rhoeas')

Red poppies, also known as Flander’s poppies are annual poppies that self-seed prolifically returning with a vengeance each year so that they may appear to be a perennial. 

They prefer full sun and their height ranges from a mere 9 inches to 18 inches. Some cultivars in this group produce flowers in varying colors, but red is the most popular.


Uses and Benefits of Poppy Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Poppy Flowers

Poppies have a long and storied heritage in medicinal use. Extracts from the Opium poppy (Papaver ‘somniferum’) are used to make a class of drugs called opiates which includes opium, heroin, morphine, and codeine. 

These drugs provide pain relief and are effective in the right doses and under medical supervision. The Ancient Egyptians chewed poppy seeds to relieve pain.

Culinary Uses of Poppy Flowers and Seeds:

Poppy seeds are used for seasoning and flavor as the amount of morphine found in poppies decreases after the flowers bloom. 

Poppy oil is used as a cooking oil in bread and baked goods. The oil is also sometimes used in salad dressings and margarine.


Poppy Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Poppy Flower Meaning & Symbolism

The poppy flower today is an enduring symbol of remembrance, and hope, particularly in recognition of the Armed Forces around the world.

The Red Poppy flower is synonymous in Europe and North America as a symbol of remembrance, particularly in connection with Veterans of WWI. 

In Eastern cultures, a red poppy symbolizes love and success and is often associated with romantic gestures. 

In the language of flowers, other poppy flower colors including pink, blue, and purple poppy flowers are often considered symbolic of success, luxury, and imagination.

White Poppies in western culture symbolize peacefulness. However, in Eastern culture white poppies are used at memorials and in funeral ceremonies.


The Cultural Significance of Poppy Flowers

The Cultural Significance of Poppy Flowers

The poppy came to be the symbol of remembrance of those who gave their lives in WWI after the publication of the poem “In Flanders Field” written by Lt. Colonel John McCrae

John MaCrae was a Canadian brigade surgeon who treated the wounded after the release of chlorine gas by the German forces. 

Although the land was destroyed and 87,000 allied soldiers lost their lives in northern France and northern Belgium (Flanders) during that battle, the following spring the land came alive with bright red poppies, inspiring MaCrae to write the touching poem “In Flanders Field”.

Anna Guerin from France quickly championed the red poppy as the symbol of remembrance and worked to establish a National Poppy Day. Typically this day is celebrated on November 11, also known as Armistice or Remembrance Day. In the US, the poppy is typically worn on Memorial Day in May.


The state flower of California (Eschscholzia californica)

The California poppy is the state flower of California. This golden poppy grows wild throughout the state and is known as “the flame flower” or “cup of gold”. 

In fact, California celebrates an entire week (May 13th to May 18th) as Poppy Week and designates April 6th as California Poppy Day

Poppy Fields in The Wizard of Oz

Poppy fields surrounded the witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz to put trespassers into a permanent sleep and prevent them from reaching the castle. 

Dorothy, the Lion, and Toto fall into a deep slumber as they walk through the field of poppies, but are revived by falling snow. Although just the fragrance of poppies will not cause slumber, this delightful tale takes advantage of the common association of poppies with eternal slumber.


How to Care for Fresh Cut Poppy Flowers at Home

How to Care for Fresh Cut Poppy Flowers at Home

Poppies make delightful cut flowers with their delicate papery blooms. However, they are short-lived, lasting only a few days in a vase before dropping their petals.

  1. Cut poppies when the bud is just beginning to open. It’s generally best to do this in the morning when the flowers are at their freshest. Poppy stems leak a milky fluid when cut and must be subjected to heat treatment before putting them in water.
  2. Use a match or lighter to quickly seer the cut end of the poppy stem. Alternately, you can place the end of the cut stem in hot water for about 30 seconds. This seals the end of the cut stem and prevents the milky latex in the stem from escaping.
  3. Place the cut and cauterized poppies in a vase of tepid water. Display in an area out of direct sunlight. Also, a tall slender vase works well for poppies, but you can add them to floral bouquets with an assortment of flowers, too.

For more, see our essential guide to fresh cut flower care at home.


Wrap-up

Poppies are cheerful flowers that seem to dance in the breeze. They attract butterflies and bees adding color and movement to the garden bed. What’s more, with a deep symbolic meaning, these graceful blooms are cherished for their connection to the past and hope for peaceful times ahead.


Poppy Flower FAQ: 

Poppies are sun-loving plants and typically need at least 5 to 6 hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Find a location with well-draining soil and allow space for the plants to grow.

Annual poppy varieties will return in spring every year and do a great job of re-seeding.

Poppy flowers typically take around 2 months to grow and a further month to start producing flowers.

Californian poppies typically bloom from early spring through to the middle of May each year.

The poppy flower is an enduring symbol of remembrance and hope, particularly in recognition of the Armed Forces around the world. The Ancient Greeks associated poppies with abundance and fertility while modern symbolism is typically one of remembrance.


Petal Republic’s Flower Guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s comprehensive guides to Roses, Sweet Woodruff, Tansy, Goldenrod, Edelweiss, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Tulips, Orchids, Carnations, Gerbera Daisies, Camellia, and Peonies.  


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