Not all poppies are perennials. A poppy can be any member of the genus Papaver, which comprises about 70 species of annuals, perennials and biennial plants. All are native to temperate zones of earth. Many have four petals, often crinkled, resembling tissue paper or pleated fabric. Poppies also occasionally have distinctive globe-shaped seed capsules. Other members of the larger Papaveraceae family, such as Meconopsis, are commonly called poppies and may be perennial or biennial.
Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale), growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, are clump forming perennials that bloom in early to mid summer. The leaves are toothed, big and rough looking. Many different varieties are available, with flower colors which range from pink, white and red colors, to purple. Some varieties, such as “Perry’s White” and “Choir Boy,” have dark purple or black blotches at the base of each petal. The petals can also be frilly or ruffled in look. After the blossoms die, the seed pods can be harvested and dried for indoor arrangements.
Two well-known yearly poppies are the corn or Flanders poppy (Papaver rhoeas), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 11, and the opium poppy. (Papaver somniferum), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. Corn poppy grows to about two feet, with slender stems and rounded, pale green buds. The Shirley breed of corn poppies include pink, white, red, salmon or bi-colored blooms. Opium poppies bear gray-green leaves and single or double blooms in lots of the same colors as corn poppies, and purple.
Other perennial members of the Papaveraceae family that are known as poppies comprise Meconopsis, a genus of tall perennials using four-petaled, crinkled blooms. Among the best known meconopsis is Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia), in USDA zones 7 through 8. Flowering in spring, greater celandine poppy (Chelidonium majus) rises in USDA zones 7 through 8, and also lesser celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), at USDA zones 4 through 9, are low whales, with yellow blossoms and lobed or pinate toothed leaves.
Poppies, both perennial and annual, prefer sunny places where the soil warms up rapidly in the spring. Clay soil should be amended with organic substance before sowing poppy seeds or planting poppy plants. Yearly poppies, such as the Shirley breed, are easy to grow from seed and have a tendency to self-seed liberally. Perennial poppies, like the oriental varieties, can be propagated from root cuttings, taken at the end of the growing season.