Few flowers are as recognisable as the poppy. As an emblem of remembrance, it is deeply embedded in our psyches. It is an influential group of flowers with a fascinating history.


Here are ten facts you probably don't know about poppies.

Then facts you didn't know about poppies

There's not just one poppy

Papaver commutatum 'Ladybird'
Papaver commutatum 'Ladybird' © Annaick Guitteny

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

Read our expert guide to growing Papaver.

Poppies hail from the Arctic Circle

Papaver nudicaule Gartenzwerg Group
Papaver nudicaule Gartenzwerg Group © Annaick Guitteny

Papaver grows mainly in the northern hemisphere, with one species found in southern Africa. Papaver nudicaule, the Icelandic poppy, comes from sub artic areas in Europe and America, including within the Arctic Circle. 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, known for his garden at Benton End, was a keen poppy hunter. After the Second World War, Morris scoured the Suffolk countryside for variations in the common field poppy, Papaver rhoeas. He eventually bred a range with a smoky-grey sheen to the petals.

The poppy has been cultivated for a long time

Papaver rhoeas, Common Poppy at Emorsgate Seeds.
© Richard Bloom

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

There are a surprising number of poppy variations

Papaver rhoeas Bridal Silk
Papaver rhoeas 'Bridal Silk'

The genus is wide ranging and encompasses species whose flowers can be extremely different. The opium poppy is far less fragile than the field poppy and produces flowers that are burly and flamboyant. Poppies can range in colour from deepest purple to red, orange, yellow and white.

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

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

Papaver orientale is amongst the most widely grown perennial and its typically blousy 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'
Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' © Getty Images

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 some places

Papaver somniferum Lauren's Grape
Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape' © Jason Ingram

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


Poppies can be found 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.


A former nurseryman, John now spends most of his time nurturing his own garden in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. He is Gardens Adviser to Glyndebourne and currently has gardening projects in the UK, Spain and France.