Identifying Poppies

Get started identifying the wild and naturalised poppies likely to be recorded in Northumberland.

A distinctive group of flowers with thin, flaccid flowers, Our poppies are a popular bunch. With most species flowering come early-summer, I thought now seemed like a good time to cover this attactive group. Remember, this post covers those most likely to be encountered in Northumberland and the wider North East. It isn’t exhaustive.

Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas 

County Status: Common

Habitat: Disturbed ground along agricultural margins and within towns and cities. Typically, roadsides, pavements, building sites and brownfield.

Identification: Flowering May-September. Flowers red, sometimes with a black blotch towards the base of the petals. Petals noticably overlapping. Unopened buds chubby, rounded and hairy. Flower stalks with spreading hairs. Seed capsules rounded, only slightly longer than wide.

Long-headed Poppy Papaver dubium

County Status: Occasional

Habitat: Disturbed ground and light soils in urban areas, along roads and on brownfield land. Occasional within fields.

Identification: Flowering May-August. Flowers red, often appearing slightly more ‘washed out’ than Common Poppy. Petals overlapping, occasionally with a small black blotch at the base. Sap milky white (break a stem). Seed capsules noticeably elongate, far longer than wide.

Yellow-juiced Poppy Papaver lecoqii

County Status: Very rare*

*There are only a handful of records in Northumberland at the time of writing this. Possibly under-recorded for Long-headed Poppy.

Habitat: Disturbed ground of any type, both in urban and rural habitats.

Identification: Flowering May-August. Visually identifical to Long-headed Poppy. Petals red and overlapping, though to a lesser extent than the former. Seed capsule elongate. Sap yellow (not white).

Prickly Poppy Papaver argemone

County Status: Rare*

*There are many Northumberland records from 1950-1980 but this plant is virtually absent thereafter. It may well pop up again!

Habitat: Usually disturbed ground in cultivated fields. Less often in towns and cities.

Identification: Flowering May-July. Flowers red, usually with an extensive area of black towards the base of the petals. Seed capsule elongate with prominent long bristles.

Atlas Poppy Papaver atlanticum

County Status: Occasional

Habitat: Urban habitats, usually close to gardens. Open and disturbed ground and occasionally within grassy areas.

Identification: Flowering April-September. A tall plant, often noticeably larger than Welsh Poppy. Flowers orange. Seed capsule elongate. Leaves broader and less divided than other poppies, glaucous in colour.

Welsh Poppy Papaver cambricum

County Status: Common

Habitat: Gardens and urban habitats close to habitation. Favours shady situations. Occasionally spreading to roadsides, stream banks etc.

Identification: Flowering May-July. A medium-tall slightly hairy plant with deeply divided foliage. Flowers usually yellow but orange-flowered forms may occur.. Capsule elliptical with a short style at the tip.

Oriental Poppy Papaver setiferum

County Status: Rare*

*Known to be well-naturalised only at Bamburgh in North Northumberland. Otherwise, occasional as garden throw-outs.

Habitat: A common garden plant which may occur in a variety of grassy or ruderal habitats where waste has been dumped.

Identification: A very large perennial plant. Flowering May-July. Flowers typically red but other cultivars exist. Big and blousy. Petals usually with a large, black blotch at base. Entire plant covered in bristle-like hairs. Stems leafy to the top.

Opium Poppy Papaver somniferum

County Status: Common

Habitat: Dry and disturbed habitats in urban environments. Roadsides, rough ground and often, coastal habitats.

Identification: Flowering May-September. Flowers are incredibly variable and can be pink, lilac, red or white. Pale lilac in the typical form.Seed capsule spherical. Best separated by its glaucous, waxy leaves.

Greater Celandine Chelidonium majus

County Status: Occasional

Habitat: Waste and disturbed ground in urban habitats, often close to gardens or allotments where it is commonly cultivated.

Identification: Flowering May-September. Flowers yellow, four-petaled and displayed in small umbels. Double-flowered forms frequent. Leaves round-lobed. Sap bright orange.

Californian Poppy Eschscholzia californica

County Status: Rare

Habitat: Pavements, roadsides and bare ground close to gardens. Occasionally included in amenity seed mixes in parkland or along roads.

Identification: An annual, seldom persisting. Flowering May-September. Flowers vibrant orange or rarely yellow. Foliage finely-divided, feather-like.

Identifying Rarer Poppies

Yellow-horned Poppy Glaucium flavum

County Status: Very rare*

*A few historic records from the Northumberland coast but not recorded since 1984. I wonder if it will turn up again?

Habitat: Shingle beaches, rocky shorelines and the margins of saltmarshes

Identification: Flowering June-September. Flowers yellow. Leaves grey-green, fleshy and deeply divided. Seed capsules distinctively curved.

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