Sunday, July 16, 2017

Plant Story--Crested Pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

You can't miss them. Big white flowers along the roadside in the eastern Rocky Mountains and out onto the plains.

prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos
The plant is crested prickly poppy, Argemone polyanthemos, poppy family, Papaveraceae. It is also called the thistle poppy and, a name I haven't seen in writing but makes it easy to remember, fried egg flower.




poppy, Papaver sp.
poppy, Papaver sp.
The cultivated poppies, from the corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, to the Icelandic poppy, Papaver nudicale, to the opium poppy Papaver somniferum, (photos) are from Eurasia. The California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, an American native, is also a relative.

California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
Native to the western U.S.
The prickly poppies are 32 species native to the Americas, of which 15 are found in North America, mostly in the southwest. Many have very restricted ranges. Argemone is a Latin word referring to a poppy or poppy-like plant, but none of species in the scientific genus Argemone are native to Europe. However, some species of Argemone have been introduced to the Old World, escaped and are now annoying weeds.

Crested prickly poppy can be seen from North Dakota to Texas, east to Kansas and Nebraska (That distribution is from the Flora of North America. The USDA gives it a wider distribution  (see USDA map). I cannot find crested prickly poppy listed as a weed anywhere, although it grows best on disturbed sites.

crested pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

Crested prickly poppies are pretty easily recognized. The flowers are open with white petals and a thick cluster of bright yellow stamens around stigmas that are reddish. The foliage runs to blue shades. The leaves usually have a lighter line running down the center and oh, yes, the leaves and stems are spiny. Finally, it is the only plant I know in the western plains and lower mountains with sap that is yellow or orange. If you break a leaf, it bleeds an evil-looking yellow-orange.

crested pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

It is an annual or biennial, a plant of disturbed sites. So you will see it along the road, or in open sandy spots or next to a prairie dog or gopher burrow.

The spines are quite sharp. This is a plant to look at rather than touch. In addition, the sap is rich in alkaloids that are likely toxic. I can't find much on crested prickly poppy but its relative Mexican prickly poppy, Argemone mexicana, is toxic. (link) I presume both spines and toxins were necessary to protect them from being eaten by large and small animals.

crested pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos seed pods
Dry seed pods of crested prickly poppy
The seed pods have nasty spines all over the outside, just like the leaves and stems. They open when ripe, to let the small, hard black seeds shake out and scatter.

When the seed pods are open, the plants are dark shapes among the grasses and forbs of the plains and foothills and the seeds in the pods rattle when you bump them. I don't know how many times I have jumped away, looking for the rattlesnake. I have heard real rattlesnakes rattle and it isn't really the same sound. But nevertheless I jump back every time the crested prickly poppy rattles.

crested pricklypoppy, Argemone polyanthemos

This is an attractive native poppy, with relatives all across North America. There is even a prickly poppy native to Hawaii (Argemone glauca) that looks very much like crested prickly poppy. Some places in North America the prickly poppies have yellow or even red flowers. If you see one, stop for a closer look!


Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

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