Poppy Family

California Poppy © AFengler

Papaveraceae (pa-pav-er-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Sepals usually pop off the flower
  • Flowers often nodding
  • Leaves often highly-dissected and fernlike

Description (Jepson)

  • Eudicotyledons (eudicots) – a major lineage of flowering plants including most plants traditionally described as dicots and generally characterized by
    • 2 seed leaves (dicotyledon)
    • Netted (reticulate) leaf venation
    • Flower parts in fours and fives
    • Pollen grains with 3 pores (tricolpate)
    • Vascular bundles in stem arranged in a ring
    • Taproot system
  • Annual, biennial, or perennial herbs
    • Also a few woody shrubs or small trees
  • Leaves
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets) or compound (divided into leaflets)
    • Often highly dissected and fern-like
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem)
  • Flowers
    • Flowers are bisexual, often nodding, and of two types
      • Poppy subfamily (Papaveroideae)
        • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is solitary and often large
        • Radially-symmetrical flower with a wide-open cup shape, petals usually in fours, and numerous stamens (male flower parts), e.g. poppy
      • Fumitory subfamily (Fumariaceae)
        • Inflorescence is usually a raceme (unbranched stem with stalked flowers opening from the bottom up)
        • Bilaterally-symmetrical flowers, with usually 6 stamens and 4 petals in two dissimilar pairs, e.g. bleeding heart
    • Sepals (usually green, outer flower parts) generally half the number of petals
      • Usually shed after flower opens
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry multi-chambered pod that splits open) with many small seeds
    • Capsules of some species open explosively


  • Approximately 770 species worldwide
    • Found in temperate and subtropical climates, usually in the Northern Hemisphere
    • Includes poppies, cream cups, and bleeding hearts
  • Plants produce a caustic latex, which is usually colored and may be milky or watery
  • Pollinated mostly by insects, usually flies, wasps, or bees
    • Flowers in the Poppy subfamily (Papaveroideae) have numerous stamens offering pollen and lack nectaries
    • Flowers in the Fumitory subfamily (Fumarioideae) have only 6 stamens and offer pollen and nectar, the latter from a pouch or spur at the base of the 2 larger petals
  • Seeds of some species, such as bleeding hearts (Dicentra species), have oily, fleshy appendages called elaiosomes, nutrient-rich food packages that attract ants
    • Ants carry the seeds back to their colony, feed the food packet to their larvae, and discard the seed, thus aiding in seed dispersal (Lengyel 2010)
    • This strategy for seed dispersal, called myrmecochory, is a kind of mutualism, as both the plant and ants benefit
  • Many species contain narcotic alkaloids
    • Morphine and culinary poppy seeds both come from the opium or breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum
  • Scientific name from the included genus Papaver, first published in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, from the Latin papaver, “poppy”
  • The previously separate Fumitory family (Fumariaceae) was combined with the Poppy family due to the similar chemistry of its poisonous compounds and leaf traits
  • Represented by 4 species at Edgewood

See General References

Specific References

Lengyel S. 2010. Convergent evolution of seed dispersal by ants, and phylogeny and biogeography in flowering plants: A global survey. Abstract. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 12: 43–55. Science Direct.

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family