by Stephen Mifsud
   15 Jul 2024      ()
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Papaver rhoeas   (Red Poppy)

Papaver rhoeas  (PAPAVERACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Species Images External Links
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Papaveraceae spp. Index Plant Family Index
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Profile Date Mar-2003 (taxon update: Mar-2003)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Papaver rhoeas - datasheet created on Mar-2003. Retrieved from on 15-Jul-2024


Species name :

Papaver rhoeas  L.

Authority :

Carl von Linne, Sweden, (1707 - 1778)

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Papaver aegadicum Lojac.
Full list of synonyms : [Euro+Med] [PlantList] [IPNI] [POWO] [Catalogue of Life] []

Plant Family :

Papaveraceae  Juss.
(Poppy Family)

English name(s) :

Red Poppy, Corn Poppy, Field Poppy

Maltese name(s) :

Peprina ħamra

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Papaver: Latin name for poppy, probably derived from the Latin pappa meaning food or milk, and hence with reference to the milky sap of plants belonging to this genus. (Latin origin ); 2 = Latin name for poppy, also "pappa" is the Latin for food or milk, referring to the milky sap of the plant (Latin).
rhoeas: having a bright red colour (for the flowers of many species in this genus). (Greek origin ); 2 = red (Greek).

Remarks :

Morphology and structure



Growth Form





Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)








Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Scarlet Red




  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Flower is made up of 2 hairy sepals and 4 large, flimsy, red petals which usually have a black spot of various size at their base. The pot-shaped ovary is located at the centre of the flower and is surrounded by a cluster of black stamens.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes


None or a faint one

Slight unpleasant scent, sometimes missed in the open air.


Grey or pale yellow




No. Per Fruit






Numerous tiny seeds which ther quantity varies according to the fruit size.


Small, kidney-shaped seeds; rather swollen.

Not more from 1mm

Dark greyish brown


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Light Green

(turns pale brown when completely dry).



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

THEROPHYTE (annual plants, herbaceous)


Fields, waysides, weedy waste-ground. Likes loamy soil rich in nutrients.


Very Common

Localities in Malta:

Common in many arable places throughout Malta and Gozo. Examples include waysides and lanes in Mistra, arable areas in Qormi, Siggiewi, Ghajn Tuffieha, Marsascala, Zabbar etc.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not legally protected till the last update of this website (2/Mar/2022)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


This is probably one of the most popular wild flowers in Europe, both for its beauty, and its WorldWar I memorial. The plant is an annual herb which readily germinates from seeds. The branching stems have fine white or purple-red hair all along, especially at the flowering part. The flower stems are quite slender, and holds the solitary and terminal flowers. The bud is hanged upside down and then assumes a normal position just before blossoming. The stems have a white milky sap.

Most of the leaves are more or less found at the middle or lower part of the stem, leaving the flowers more conspicuous. They are stalked, oppositely arranged on the stems, and are so deeply pinnately divided, that each pinna (leaf lobe) is independent. They also have a coarsely serrated outline. The leaf pinnae and serrated outline varies from plant to plant.

The flower consists of 2 hairy sepals and 4 bright red to red-crimson petals, often having a dark blob at the base. The blob also varies from plant to plant and some may even lack it. The petals are fragile (detaches easily from the flower) and their size vary considerably, but can form flowers of about 50mm in diameter. At the center there is a globular or pot-shaped gynoecium that is pale green in colour and has radiating darker stripes at the top. The stigma are found upon these stripes. Encircling the base of the gynoecium is a cluster of many black stamens with anthers that may be covered with pale yellow or grey pollen.

The fruit is a seed capsule which is pale green and turns yellowish or light brown when the seeds matures. The glabrous seed-capsule is pot-shaped with a flattened top (lid) that has a slightly serrated circumference. The dehiscent poricidal capsule is operculate (possess a lid structure). It does not split open, but instead, the tiny (1mm), brown, kidney shaped seeds escape from pores at the lid part of the capsule when wind causes it to sway.

Information, uses and other details


According to reference [WWW-26] this plant is native to the following regions and countries :

Northern Africa: Algeria [n.]; Egypt; Libya [n.]; Morocco; Tunisia
Western Asia: Afghanistan; Cyprus; Egypt - Sinai; Iran; Iraq; Israel; Jordan; Lebanon; Syria; Turkey
Caucasus: Armenia; Azerbaijan; Georgia; Russian Federation - Ciscaucasia, Dagestan
Indian Subcontinent: Pakistan
Northern Europe: Denmark; Ireland; Norway [s.e.]; Sweden [s.]; United Kingdom
Middle Europe: Austria; Belgium; Czechoslovakia; Germany; Hungary; Netherlands; Poland; Switzerland
East Europe: Belarus; Latvia; Lithuania; Russian Federation - European part [w.]; Ukraine [incl. Krym]
Southeastern Europe: Albania; Bulgaria; Greece [incl. Crete]; Italy [incl. Sardinia, Sicily]; Romania; Yugoslavia
Southwestern Europe: France [incl. Corsica]; Portugal; Spain [incl. Baleares] Portugal - Azores, Madeira Islands; Spain - Canary Islands

It is also naturalized in North America

Cultivation Notes:

Prefers a well-drained sandy loam in a sunny position [1, 200]. Does not do well on wet clay soils but succeeds in most other soils [115]. Plants usualy self-sow freely when growing in suitable conditions so long as the soil surface is disturbed [238]. There are several named varieties selected for their ornamental value [200]. A polymorphic species, varying in leaf shape and flower colour [17]. When growing in cereal fields, poppies decrease the yields of nearby cereal plants [18, 20]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer or rabbits [233].


Papaver Rhoeas is very slightly narcotic. The chief constituent of the fresh petals is the red colouring matter, which consists of Rhoeadic and Papaveric acids. This colour is much darkened by alkalis. [WWW-03]

All parts of the plant contain the crystalline non-poisonous alkaloid Rhoeadine. The amount of active ingredients is very small and rather uncertain in quantity. There is great controversy as to the presence of Morphine. Also it has not been determined whether Meconic Acid, which is present in opium, is a constituent. [WWW-03]

Medicinal Uses:

The plant has the following medicinal properties:   [4, 7, 9, 13, 46, 53].
Anodyne used to relieve pain.    [WWW-32]
AntiCancer used in the treatment of cancer; "anticancer drug"; "an antineoplastic effect".    [WWW-32]
Emmenagogue used to promote the menstrual discharge.    [WWW-32]
Emollient substances resembling cream that have a soothing and moisturising effect when applied to the skin.    [WWW-32]
Hypnotic used to promote sleep where the effect is intermediate between that of a sedative (tranquilizer) and narcotic.    [271]
Sedative used for making drowsy or sooth a patient, but not strong enough to induce sleep    [271]

The flowers of corn poppy have a long history of medicinal usage, especially for ailments in the elderly and children [244, 254]. Chiefly employed as a mild pain reliever and as a treatment for irritable coughs, it also helps to reduce nervous over-activity [254]. Unlike the related opium poppy (P. somniferum) it is non-addictive [244]. However, the plant does contain alkaloids, which are still under investigation, and so should only be used under the supervision of a qualified herbalist [244].

The flowers and petals are anodyne, emollient, emmenagogue, expectorant, hypnotic, slightly narcotic and sedative [4, 7, 9, 13, 46, 53]. An infusion is taken internally in the treatment of bronchial complaints and coughs, insomnia, poor digestion, nervous digestive disorders and minor painful conditions [9, 238]. The flowers are also used in the treatment of jaundice [218]. The petals are harvested as the flowers open and are dried for later use [238]. They should be collected on a dry day and can be dried or made into a syrup [4].

The latex in the seed-pods is narcotic and slightly sedative [240]. It can be used in very small quantities, and under expert supervision, as a sleep-inducing drug [7].

The leaves and seeds are tonic [240]. They are useful in the treatment of low fevers [240].

The plant has anticancer properties [218].

Artemis Herbs Ltd makes a Tincture of Field Poppy flower which gives the following info and uses:
This tincture is made from flowers gathered in Lebanon where the field poppy grows abundantly. It produces a beautiful bright red tincture which is an ideal remedy for nervous over-activity and insomnia. It has soothing, anti-catarrhal properties, good in irritable coughs, croup, bronchitis and pleurisy. Suitable for children. Do not exceed recommended dosage. [WWW-10]

Edible Uses:

Seeds - raw or cooked. Much used as a flavouring in cakes, bread, fruit salads etc. [4, 5, 21, 183], it imparts a very nice nutty flavour [KF]. The seeds are rather small, but they are contained in fairly large seed pods and so are easy to harvest. The seeds are perfectly safe to eat, containing none of the alkaloids associated with other parts of the plant [238]. An edible oil is obtained from the seeds [2, 4]. This is said to be an excellent substitute for olive oil [4, 183], it can be used in salad dressings or for cooking. [2]

Leaves - raw or cooked [7, 52]. Used like spinach or as a flavouring in soups and salads [132, 183]. The leaves should not be used after the flower buds have formed [7]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Flower - A syrup can be prepared from the scarlet flower petals, it is used in soups, gruels etc. [4, 183]. In the past it was also used as a substitute for tea. A red dye from the petals is used as a food flavouring, especially in wine [183].

Other Uses

A red dye is obtained from the flowers [7, 46, 61], though it is very fugitive [4]. A syrup made from the petals has been used as a colouring matter for old inks [4, 13, 89]. The red petals are used to add colour to pot-pourri [238].


  • Origin of the Poppy is probably Asia and Far East. [277]
  • Flour made from corn that is badly cleaned from poppy (esp if high content of poppy seeds is present) will have a yellowish colour and deteriorates quickly.[277]
  • Because of improved methods of cleaning grains and crops from weeds, the field poppy is slowly disappearing from the fields, despite that one plant can produce 50,000 seeds. [277]
  • There are several varieties, differing in the size of the lobes of the leaves and in the character of the fruit, which may be nearly cylindrical or globular, smooth or furnished with stiff hairs. The intensity of the scarlet colouring of the petals also varies [WWW-03]
  • The poppy was established as a memorial flower of the First World War by a Georgia woman named Moina Michael, and was accepted by the American Legion as its official memorial flower in 1921. It has been used by the American Legion and similar organizations around the world in honor and remembrance of veterans and active miltary service personnel from every war up to the present. [AJ]

Personal Observations:

There seems to be genetical variety in the blobs present in the base of the petals. The following 4 different flowers have been observed:
  1.    4 large black blobs with a white border at the outer edge
  2.    4 black blobs (various sizes) without a white border at the edge
  3.    2 quite small blobs (other 2 missing)
  4.    No blobs at all

The most common are (1) and (4) from the above list. There is a tendency that the flowers with blobs are on average larger and contains numerous and more pronounced stamens from those without blobs. [SM].

Another variations is the colour of the stalk and bud bristles. In some species the bristles are just white, while in others they are purple-red [SM].

Links & Further literature (0 papers)

Google Web

Google Images

Google Scholar

Research Gate




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



World Flora Online

Plants of the World Online

Vienna Virt. Herb.

RBGE Herbarium

KEW Herbarium




Kindly Email if there are papers and publications about local studies or information about this species to be included in the list above.

Photo Gallery   (34 Images)

Photo of the flower which is made up of 4 large, red, rounded petals.
Photo of flower having a cluster of stamens around a pot-shaped ovary - a characteristic of many species of Poppies.
Side-view photo of flower showing its cup-shaped structure, formed when at least 2 of the 4 petals assume an erect position (often occurs when flower is young).
Photo of a typical flower with a black large blob at the base of each petal. There is variety in this black spot between different specimens. This one have 4 prominent black blobs with a white outer edge. Some have it completely black, and some lack it completely.
Photo of flower, this one lacking completely the black blobs at the base of the petals.
Photo of another specimen which does not have any blobs. Such specimens seem to have less conspicuous stamens and a smaller ovary.
Photo of a peculiar specimen with flowers having 6 petals instead of 4. One can observe this from the 6 basal black blobs each corresponding to one petal.
Flower which interestingly have only two small blobs instead of four (two petals lack this blob).
When the petals are firm and erect, the flower assumes a cup-shaped structure.
Photo of flower that has 2 small blobs and a conspicuous cluster of black stamens.
Photo of 3 flowers growing beside a field of wheat.
Photo of a field coloured yellow and red as it is being populated by the yellow Crown Daisy (Glebionis coronaria) and the red Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas).
Display of wild flowers in Malta in Spring, in this case the common poppy and crown daisy (same field of previous photo).
A population of poppies in a fallow/abandoned field - the most common habit of this species, especially close to cereal crops.
Photo of numerous poppy flowers taken during the peak season of blooming, hence in between mid-March and mid April. From the species of Poppies in Malta, Papaver rhoeas is the only one which can be seen in flower up to May.
A population of Papaver rhoeas in a wheat field.
Photo of Papaver rhoeas plants accompanied by the purple-flowering Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum subsp. setigerum).
Photo of individual plants in a field.
Close up photo of the pot-shaped ovary and the radially emerging cluster of blackish stamens. Each stamen consists of a black, erect, thin filament and a beige or grey anther.
Close up photo of ovary and the cluster of stamens. The anthers are more black and not much pollen is present, indicating that the flower is young and the anthers are not yet ripe.
Another close up photo of mature stamens encircling the ovary.
Scanned image of petal which has a roundish shape, shallowly crenated outline, pleated and a bright red colour.
Close up photo of a bud, covered with numerous bristles. The buds are found hanging upside down and becomes upright just before blooming. Some species have bristles which are red, like in this photo, while in others they are white.
Scanned image of a bud (right side) and a fruit capsule. The former have bristles while the latter is glabrous.
Close up of the operculated fruit capsule. When the tiny seeds are ripe, they escape from small slits at the top part of the capsule below the lid.
Photo of the lid of the fruit capsule which consists of several linear ridges.
Scanned image of leaf which is pinnately lobed and sub-lobed (referred to as pinnatifid).
Magnified image of leaf lobes.
Oozing sap from a freshly dissected stalk.
Magnified image of pollen under microscope.
Colour illustration of the plant and its major parts taken from Flora Danica Online.
Colour illustration of the plant and its major parts taken from © 1995-2005 Missouri Botanical Garden. .
Diagram of a fruit pod.
Magnified scanned image of the kidney-shaped seeds showing the texture of seed coat.

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