MADS-box genes are crucial regulators of floral development, yet how their functions have evolved to control different aspects of floral patterning is unclear. To understand the extent to which MADS-box gene functions are conserved or have diversified in different angiosperm lineages, we have exploited the capability for functional analyses in a new model system, Papaver somniferum (opium poppy). P. somniferum is a member of the order Ranunculales, and so represents a clade that is evolutionarily distant from those containing traditional model systems such as Arabidopsis, Petunia, maize or rice. We have identified and characterized the roles of several candidate MADS-box genes in petal specification in poppy. In Arabidopsis, the APETALA3 (AP3) MADS-box gene is required for both petal and stamen identity specification. By contrast, we show that the AP3 lineage has undergone gene duplication and subfunctionalization in poppy, with one gene copy required for petal development and the other responsible for stamen development. These differences in gene function are due to differences both in expression patterns and co-factor interactions. Furthermore, the genetic hierarchy controlling petal development in poppy has diverged as compared with that of Arabidopsis. As these are the first functional analyses of AP3 genes in this evolutionarily divergent clade, our results provide new information on the similarities and differences in petal developmental programs across angiosperms. Based on these observations, we discuss a model for how the petal developmental program has evolved.