Variable, erect annual, forming a long-lived soil seed bank that can germinate when the soil is disturbed. In the northern hemisphere it generally flowers in late spring, but if the weather is warm enough other flowers frequently appear at the beginning of autumn.
It grows up to about 70cm in height. The flowers are large and showy, 50 to 100mm across, with four petals that are vivid red, most commonly with a black spot at their base. The flower stem is usually covered with coarse hairs that are held at right angles to the surface, helping to distinguish it from Papaver dubium in which the hairs are more usually appressed.