Poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Poppies are instantly recognisable wildflowers, with their bright red petals! Poppies are good self-seeders and so very often spring up in disturbed ground, the seed having lay dormant for many years.    The flower’s name comes from Anglo-Saxon name – popig.  Rhoeas may come from the Greek, rho, possibly meaning red.  Plinus, in ancient Greece, claimed that papaver derived from papa = pap, the mashed up food of babies, poppy juice being added to it to help the infants to sleep.  DO NOT do this at home!! It may also relate to the Latin papula, “papule”, due to the rounded seed capsules. Poppy seeds have been found that date as far back as 25,000 years.  Interesting fact – the average Poppy produces about 17,000 seeds.

RHS Plants for Pollinators

Poppies sometimes pop up in the wild but are far less common nowadays as farmers used to regard them as pests and so eradicate them with pesticides. To see a field of poppies today is a rare and wondrous sight.

Poppies grow to around 2 ft tall and need full sun.

Poppy Folklore

It was believed that Poppies caused headaches and thunderstorms!  Since the seeds were thought to bring health and strength, Greek athletes were given a mix of Poppy seeds, honey and wine to drink. 

The tombs of the ancient Pharoahs were strewn with Poppy flowers.  In the Middle Ages they were used to treat chest infections.  The Poppy was also the sacred flower of Ceres, the Roman goddess of Corn.  Legend has it she was so weary that she was not looking after the corn properly so Somnus, god of Sleep, created the Poppy to make her sleep and wake again refreshed.  The Poppy is also a symbol of remembrance because its red flowers represent the blood of the dead.   To the ancient Greeks it symbolised regeneration – Venus is sometimes represented with an apple in one hand and a Poppy flower in the other.    It has been used in potion as an antidote to those bewitched to love someone.  Poppies were made into dolls by country children – fold down the petals to make a skirt and hold it in place with a belt of grass.

Magic tells us that if Poppy seeds are soaked in wine for 15 days, then the wine drunk for 5 days while fasting, then you will be able to make yourself invisible at will.  Young Greek girls would test the fidelity of their lover by placing a Poppy petal in the hand.  They would strike it sharply and if it made a cracking noise then their lover was sincere, but if broke they were unfaithful.  During World War II Poppy oil was used instead of olive oil.  Also known as Thundercup and Thunderflowers because it shouldn’t be picked during a storm.

Wildlife Value of Poppies

Poppies are pollinated by many insects, but, in particular, bumblebees. Hoverflies are also often found on the flowers.

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