Arctic poppy (Papaver laestadianum)

Synonyms: Papaver radicatum
GenusPapaver (1)
SizeStem length: 10 cm (2)

The Arctic poppy is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Arctic poppy (Papaver laestadianum) is a rare, endemic, perennial plant species found only in the harsh, Arctic conditions of the northernmost parts of Scandinavia. The solitary flower head consists of four vibrant yellow petals, supported by an erect stem which is long and narrow and has thick, spreading black hairs. Within the cup-shaped flower are five stigma protruding from a flat disk (1) (2).

 The leaves growing in a dense rosette around the base of the stem are lance-shaped and pinnate. The flowering stems of the Arctic poppy are around ten centimetres long, but the rest of the plant is relatively low-growing (1) (2) (3).

The Arctic poppy is restricted to small, mountainous areas in the northernmost regions of Norway and Sweden, where it is endemic. It is known from six to seven locations in Norway and two in Sweden (1) (2) (4).

The Arctic poppy is present in alpine and subalpine calcareous tundra at high altitudes (1) (5). These sites are open, monotonous expanses consisting mainly of shattered rock, rubble and gravel, with discontinuous plant cover and a covering of frost. They are mostly inaccessible and uninfluenced by man (2) (4) (6).

 The Arctic poppy often grows on a north-facing slope in fine, loose, moist and calcareous soil, with the slope enabling the soil to drain well once the snow begins to melt in warmer weather (2) (5).

The leaves of the Arctic poppy stay green throughout winter, an adaptation to its extreme surroundings. The leaves develop throughout the summer and are able to survive through the winter without withering, retaining their green colouration. As soon as the weather becomes warmer and sunlight is present, the leaves will begin photosynthesis and new leaves become functional, at which point the older leaves will wither, creating a continuous cycle (3).

The air inside the flower of the Arctic poppy rises to several degrees warmer than the outside temperature when the sun is shining. This happens because of the cup-shaped flowers, which focus the sun’s rays onto the centre of the flower and make it a desirable area for flying insects. The bright yellow flowers of the Arctic poppy follow the sun continuously (3), turning to track the daily movements of the sun. This concentrates solar heat on the ovary, warming and speeding the growth of the developing seeds (7).

 The Arctic poppy is self-pollinating, creating fertilised seeds with low germination rates (2) (3) (8).

The Arctic poppy is vulnerable to temperature increases, and global climate change is therefore a major threat to populations of this species and to its habitat (1).

In Sweden, the Arctic Poppy is protected by special regulations which prohibit removing or causing damage to the plant (2). There are not known to be any other specific conservation measures currently in place for this rare Arctic species.

Find out more about the Arctic poppy, its habitat and plant conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. Lucas, G. and Synge, H. (1978) The IUCN Plant Red Data Book: Comprising Red Data Sheets on 250 Selected Plants Threatened on a World Scale. IUCN, Morges.
  3. Pielou, E.C. (1994) A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  4. Spellerberg, I.F. (1994) Evaluation and Assessment for Conservation: Ecological Guidelines for Determining Priorities for Nature Conservation. Springer Publications, New York.
  5. Dowdeswell, J.A. and Hambrey, M.J. (2002) Islands of the Arctic. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  6. IUCN (1993) Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in Arctic and Subarctic Onshore Regions: Guidelines For Environmental Protection. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.
  7. Rafferty, J.P. (2011) The Living Earth. The Rosen Publishing Group, New York.
  8. Heinrich, B. (1993) The Hot-Blooded Insects: Strategies and Mechanisms of Thermoregulation. Harvard University Press, Harvard.