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What is Papaver?

By N. Freim
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Papaver is a genus of flower known better as the poppy. A natural in temperate climates, the poppy has been popular for thousands of years. The size can range from dwarf to large, and the flowers can be any number of bright colors. In the past, the poppy was used as medicine after extracting the morphine in its sap. Poppy seeds and oil are used occasionally in cooking. The flowers do best in sunny, mild locations and make a great addition to bouquets.

Papaver is a genus of more than 80 species of annual flowers commonly called poppies. The plant is native to warm climates across Europe, North America, and Africa. The flowers have been around for centuries; drawings of the poppy have been found in ruins from Egyptian times.

The high number of varieties means that the plant’s size can range from 10 inches (25.4 cm) to 2 feet (0.6 m) tall. The flowers commonly have four to six petals forming a bowl-shaped bloom. The poppy comes in an array of colors from red and pink to lilac and bicolored.

The genus Papaver has a history of medicinal use. While some varieties are toxic, the Papaver somniferum, or opium poppy, produces a sap that contains morphine and codeine. The seeds of this variety are often used in cooking, but even too much poppy seed bread could result in a positive screening for drugs. Owing to the plant’s sleep-inducing power, cultivating it in large numbers in illegal in some countries.

For the best results, Papaver should be planted in an area with good drainage and full sun. Gardeners suggest planting the flower in autumn or very early spring. Not all poppies will flourish in the same location. For example, the variety Oregon rainbows will not bloom anywhere but Oregon and Washington in the Pacific Northwest. In general, poppies will not hold up in a hot climate, dying within a single summer.

The poppy is a popular flower in arrangements. The Papaver nudicaule is a variety known as the Icelandic poppy. This flower can last multiple days with other cut flowers, provided that the stem is seared shut. This is necessary because all parts of the plant are toxic.

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