Native Wood Poppy vs Invasive Greater Celandine Identification

by cazort

How to identify and distinguish the wood poppy native to eastern North America, from the invasive lesser celandine, a similar plant native to Europe.

In woodlands of eastern North America, there are two widespread species that look like poppies and bloom yellow. One is native, and is a natural part of healthy ecosystems, but the other is an invasive species, introduced from Europe, which has negative impacts on the ecology.

This page will tell you a little bit about each species, and help you to identify them.

If you live in the UK or Europe, you may also find this page helpful, but bear in mind that in Europe it is the North American wood poppy that is invasive, and the Greater Celandine that is the natural part of the local ecosystems.

About The Two Species: What's The Big Deal?

Greater celandine or tetterwort, Chelidonium majus, invasive in N. America. Wood poppy, or Stylophorum diphyllum, native to N. America.

Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, is a yellow-flowering plant in the poppy family.  I first noticed this plant on my travels in Europe, where it is widespread.  It is one of many plants that has been introduced to North America, where it has become invasive, harming local ecosystems because it out-competes native plants, but few insects eat it.

The Wood Poppy, also called Celandine Poppy or Poppywort, Stylophorum diphyllum, is native to North America, and fills a similar ecological niche to the invasive greater celandine.  Although it is still common in some areas, and has even expanded its range due to being planted as a garden plant, it has become endangered in parts of its range, such as in Ontario.

By learning to distinguish between these two species, you will be able to help with removing greater celandine when it occurs in North America, as well as by encouraging the native wood poppy.

How To Identify And Distinguish These Plants

The two species are easily distinguished by seed pods, flowers, or leaves.

Although at first glance they look similar, I find that with some practice, the plants can be easy to identify at any time of year.  The easiest way to distinguish them, which can be done without looking closely, is their seed pods.

  • Flowers - Both plants have yellow flowers with four petals, and bloom at about the same time, but the flowers are easily identifiable upon closer look, especially if you see them side-by-side or take a photograph to compare.  The North American wood poppy has bigger, more showy flowers.  The petals are much wider, and nearly always overlap each other.  The petals also look floppy.  Greater Celandine, on the other hand, has narrower petals (much longer than they are wide) which are sometimes so narrow that they have a visible space between petals.  There are other differences in the flowers, such as a denser concentration of stamens on the wood poppy, and a green color of the pistil on Greater Celandine.
  • Leaves - The leaves of both plants are similar, with deeply lobed leaves growing about the same height, but if you look closely, you will easily be able to distinguish them.  Greater Celandine has leaves with a very rounded look, but many small cuts into the lobes.  The wood poppy native to North America has more pointy looking leaves, with large lobes but no fine cuts.
  • Seed Pods - Greater Celandine (from Europe) has tall and narrow seed pods that look a lot more like the pods of a mustard plant than typical poppy pods.  The North American wood poppy has short, stout, blue-green seed pods, covered in bristles, that look more like other poppy seed pods.

Below you will see these species side-by-side.

Identification by Flower

The wood poppy has wider, floppier petals that nearly always overlap. Greater celandine has narrower petals that sometimes have spaces between them.
Wood Poppy
Wood Poppy
Photo by Alex Zorach
Greater Celandine
Greater Celandine
Photo by Alex Zorach

Foliage and Leaves

Wood poppy has pointier leaves that have blunt lobes but lack fine cuts. Greater celandine has rounder-shaped leaves with numerous finer cuts.
Wood Poppy
Wood Poppy
Photo by Alex Zorach
Greater Celandine
Greater Celandine
Photo by Alex Zorach

Seed Pods

Wood poppy has round, fat seed pods, blue-green, and covered in bristles. Greater celandine has long, narrow seedpods, green in color, and usually upright.
Wood Poppy
Wood Poppy
Photo by Alex Zorach
Greater Celandine
Greater Celandine
Photo by Alex Zorach

Test Yourself

Below I have included un-labelled pictures.  Try ID-ing each one using the tips above, and then scroll down to check your answers below.

Test 1
Test 1
Test 2
Test 2
Test 3
Test 3
Test 4
Test 4
Test 5
Test 5
Test 6
Test 6

Quiz / Test Answers

Check your answers; if you got any wrong, refer back to the keys at the top of the page.

1. Greater Celandine

2. Wood Poppy

3. Greater Celandine

4. Greater Celandine

5. Wood Poppy

6. Wood Poppy

Do you feel confident IDing these two plants?

More of My Pages on Plants and Ecology

Use of American Holly tree in gardening and landscaping; growing requirements, size, and advantages over non-native hollies when grown in or near its native range.
The blue wood aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, a wildflower native to eastern North America: growing info and uses for this plant in gardening and landscaping.
Benefits of rainforests to humans, moderation of climate, temperature, rainfall, and wind, economic value of forests, etc.
Updated: 08/27/2016, cazort
 
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cazort on 08/27/2016

Oops thanks, silly me, I'll fix this right now!

Lisa on 08/27/2016

The answers to your quiz questions say 'Lesser Celandine'. Shouldn't they say Greater Celandine?

cazort on 05/16/2016

Thanks, I hadn't heard of this other distinction with the hairiness of the stems, but it's super obvious now that I look at it! Thank you so much for chiming in and adding that bit of info!

Patrick F. Fields on 05/16/2016

Also note that the young stems on the Greater poppy are covered in dense white hairs, while in the wood poppy they are more sparsely covered in pale greenish hairs.

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