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Mexican Pricklypoppy
mexican pricklypoppy
Photographed in Delray Beach along Lake Ida Road just west of I-95.
Mexican Pricklypoppy

Mexican pricklypoppy, Argemone mexicana, stands out with its large, showy yellow flowers and silver green leaves with prominent white veins. It looks like someone crossed a dandelion with a prickly pear.

The leaves are deeply and sharply lobed with spines on the end. It also produces spikey seed capsules, seen to the left of the flower in three of the four photos on this page. The flowers are large and bright yellow, somewhat similar to prickly pear.

It's questionably native to Florida and even more questionably to most of the eastern U.S. Some argue that it is an import to Florida and probably the rest of its North American range, which extends as far north as Manitoba and Ontario and westward to Nebraska and Kansas. If it is an import, it's not clear how it got here. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says Mexican Pricklypoppy is native as far north Viriginia and naturalized in higher latitudes.

Its native range probably includes the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America, although some question South America. It's taken up home in other parts of the world, including Ethiopia, India, China and Australia. It's a significant agricultural pest in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. South Africa and several states in Australia classify it as a noxious weed. It is an annual, found in sandy soil and full sun, and blooms year-round in South Florida. It's found in disturbed areas such as fallow fields and roadsides, which is where we found this plant, oddly enough.

Mexican pricklypoppy has been used for a variety of remedies, but all parts of the plant are toxic. According to the Flora of Pakistan, the seeds have narcotic properties. It supposedly has a soothing effect on headaches when used externally. It's also used externally on a variety of skin conditions, including herpes. It is used to treat abnormal collection of fluids; an oil made from the seeds is used to treat ulcers — and as a fuel for lamps.

mexican pricklypoppy

It can be giant pain in the butt for farmers. Not only can it outcompete crops, it makes harvesting a painful ordeal not only because of the prickles but because of chemicals that can irritate the skin. Mexican pricklypoppy investations in pasturelands are problematic because livestock won't touch it.

It is a large seed producer, but the majority will fall near the parent plant. Some will be carried away by rainwater runoff, some will be picked up by animals, boots and mechanical equipment. Birds also will help disperse the seeds. Mexican pricklypoppy also produces allelopathic chemicals, which inhibit the seeds of plants from germinating. It's problem when the seeds are the next crop. Oddly enough, despite the problems it causes, Mexican pricklypoppy is often grown to improve soil conditions.

Other names include goatweed, Mexican poppy, devil's fig, yellow-flower thistle, Mexican thistle, golden thistle of Peru, prickly poppy, Mexican prickly poppy, medicinal weed and others. It is a member of Papaveraceae, the poppy family.

Photographs by David Sedore
Mexican Pricklypoppy
mexican pricklypoppy
Mexican Pricklypoppy
  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distribution maps for Mexican pricklypoppy



Mexican Pricklypoppy
Links for Mexican Pricklypoppy
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.