Common poppy herbarium sheet

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What is it?

This is a dried common poppy plant from the botany collection. Its scientific name is Papaver rhoeas. It is a modern specimen, collected in a field in the UK in 2008.

This is just one of over 6 million plant specimens looked after by the Museum.

Herbarium sheet features

  • The label records what the specimen is, where and when it was collected, and by whom.
  • The barcode is a unique identification that enables the Museum to track each object, both within the Museum and when on loan. It also manages all the scientific information associated with it.
  • Drying and pressing helps preserve plants and carefully gluing them to paper shows off most of their identifying features. The tiniest detail on this poppy, or its label, could lead to new understandings.

Poppies in the UK

There are 120 species of poppy world-wide with 5 species of red-flowering poppy growing in the UK: the common, rough, prickly, long-headed and Babington’s poppies. They look similar but we can tell them apart by differences in the shape of their seedpods, and the colour of the latex that oozes out when you snap the stems.

Museum poppy research

Museum scientists are studying the distribution of poppies in the UK. They use the information from our collections, and elsewhere, to track the spread of poppies across the UK over time.

The data gathered can help tell us the impact that farming has on UK biodiversity. Some species are declining – they are much less widespread than they used to be. Recording and tracking changes in biodiversity is essential for monitoring our natural environment.

Poppy decline

The intensification of agriculture that followed the Second World War had a serious impact on the poppy. Habitat loss, as fields get bigger and field margins are lost, has also contributed to their decline. Poppies are adapted to grow in soil that is regularly disturbed, but modern agriculture means the soil is worked too intensively, or not grazed at all, neither of which is good for poppies.

What will happen to poppies in the UK?

The good news is that poppy seeds are able to lie dormant for as long as 100 years. This allows poppies to make a come-back even in areas where they have been suppressed by herbicides and fertilisers.

This phenomenon has been seen widely following the introduction of 'set-aside' land, where surplus land is taken out of production. More recently, agri-environment schemes have encouraged farmers to revert to more traditional forms of farming.  This also allows the poppy and other wild flowers to make a resurgence.