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 3 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 (1): 43–55.

          Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family