What are poppies?

According to legend, the Greek goddess of fertility and agriculture, Demeter, loves poppies -- and why not? Poppy flowers grow easily from seed, need little water and care, and bring color and cheer to any corner. Ancient farmers used to scatter the tiny black seeds around their fields to please Demeter with bright poppy blooms in the hopes of bringing good luck to their crops. The corn poppy gets its name from this practice, as poppies were often planted around corn fields in honor of the goddess.

Poppies are often categorized as annual plants, requiring new planting each year. However, in warmer climates like as the western parts of the United States, they may last through the winter to grow and flower again, and can thus be considered perennials. Most poppies come from the Papaver genus, and there are some 50 different species. The flowers may range in color from white to pink to purple, and some produce multicolored blossoms, but the standard and best-loved poppies are bright red. The blooms can be as large as seven inches (18 cm) across, although most are smaller. They may be single or double flowers, or something in between, and they usually have a cupped shape. The flowers grow tall on hairy stalks and can be cut to enjoy in indoor arrangements.


Among the best-known poppy varieties are:

  • Papaver atlanticum
  • Iceland poppy (Papaver cruceum)
  • Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale)
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

The poppy’s popularity endures across geography and time. In California, poppies are so well-loved that the city of Lancaster hosts an annual Poppy Festival. Evidence of poppies have been unearthed in ancient Egypt, and today they can be found across the globe in fields, gardens, pots and simply growing wild. [source: National Garden Bureau, Inc.]