Poppies: From Breads to Backyards

The beauty of poppies can be very alluring, as Dorothy found out in the Wizard of Oz. Poppies are used in the ornamental garden, dried and cut flower arrangements, and in cooking. While the "tissue paper" blooms look very delicate, the plants are surprisingly durable and once established are fairly carefree. There are both perennial and annual species well suited to the Midwest.

Oriental Poppy

The large, striking, orange poppy in Georgia O'keefe's famous painting is the Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale). Extensive breeding of this perennial has resulted in double, fringed, and ruffled blooms. The 4 - 6" flowers are available in shade of red, orange, and white, with a few pinks and purples. The leaves are long, segmented and often pubescent forming a 2 - 3' high clump. Oriental poppies bloom during May and June, but their show is extended by their attractive hairy buds and ornamental seed pods. The foliage will often disappear in the summer, so select neighboring plants that will fill in open areas. Planting and dividing are done in the fall, but root cuttings and seed are the most common form of propagation. Popular varieties include:

  • Allegro - scarlet red
  • Queen Alexandra - salmon
  • Black and White - white with black spots at the base of the petals
  • China Boy - orange with a white center
  • Maiden's Blush - ruffled white with pink edge
  • Prince of Orange

Iceland Poppy

The Iceland or Artic poppy (P. nudicaule) is a short-lived perennial in the northern United States. The blooms and the plant itself are smaller than the Oriental poppy with a 12" foliage mound. It has a longer bloom time from spring into early summer and comes in yellow, red, orange, white, and pink.

  • Champagne Bubbles - mix
  • Wonderland Mix
  • Oregon Rainbow - large 6" blooms

Shirley Poppy

Also known as the Flanders poppy and corn poppy, this annual (P. rhoeas) was the inspiration behind the red "Buddy" poppy used by veterans. The plant averages 12" high while the blooms are 1-3" in diameter. Shirley poppies are available in a wide variety of colors, and have white centers versus the typical black. Seeds should be sown as soon as possible in the spring for mid to late summer blooms. The corn poppy is being used to beautify roadsides, particularly in the south, as it reseeds well.

  • Mother of Pearl - pastel mix
  • Red Legion - red w/black center
  • Shirley Hybrids - all colors

Opium Poppy

Also known as birdseed poppy (P. somniferum), this beautiful plant is known for its seeds used in baking as well as its narcotic sap. More impressive to gardeners are the attractive 4-5" blooms of red, pink, white, or purple in late spring. There is a variety resembling a double peony labeled var. paeoniaeflorum. The 2-3' plants have blue-grey, toothed foliage. An annual in the north, it is perennial in USDA Hardiness zones 6-7. The large seed pods are quite striking and are used in dried arrangements. Chill seeds in winter before spring sowing for best results.

  • Black Peony - deep maroon
  • Danish Flag - red and white
  • Oase - large seed pod

Culture Requirements

Poppies have very few disease or insect problems and are fairly easy to maintain. They require a well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Wet soils during winter can cause plants to decline. A site protected from harsh wind will extend bloom time. Poppies do not like being disturbed once established. They are an excellent choice for cut flowers, but require that you sear the stem with a flame after cutting to seal in moisture.

Whether perennial or annual, poppies are a showstopper in any garden and once established will captivate you for years to come.


  • Armitage, Allan. 1997. Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 2nd ed. Stipes Publishing, Champaign, Ill.
  • Armitage, Allan. 2001. Manual of Annuals, Biennials, and Half - Hardy Perennials. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  • Still, Steven. 1994. Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants. 4th ed. Stipes Publishing, Champaign, Ill.

This article originally appeared in the June 21, 2002 issue, pp. 88-89.


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