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Opium Poppy

Papaver somniferum

  • Name also: White Poppy
  • Family: Poppy Family – Papaveraceae
  • Growing form: Annual herb.
  • Height: 30–70 cm (12–28 in.). Stem leafy, almost glabrous.
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic), 8–10 cm (3.2–4 in.) wide. Petals 4, usually red, sometimes white, light or dark red. Sepals 2, fall as flower opens. Stamens many. Pistil of several fused carpels. Inflorescence of 1–3-flowers, solitary flowers terminating branches. Bud egg-shaped–elongated.
  • Leaves: Alternate. Lowest leaves short-stalked, upper leaves stalkless, amplexicaul. Blade narrowly elliptic–ovate, with inconsistent toothed margins, bluish green.
  • Fruit: Oval, 13–27 mm (0.52–1.08 in.) long, glabrous capsule. Stigma-disc usually with 8–12 rays.
  • Habitat: Old gardens, wasteland, rubbish tips. Ornamental, escape.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

Opium poppies do not grow ferally at all in Finland – it has probably been developed in the eastern Mediterranean areas from the species Papaver setigenum. Opium poppy is normally cultivated in Finland as an annual ornamental. It is also quite often a casual or semi-regular escape in places that have been culturally impacted, such as old gardens and earth heaps.

Opium poppy varies quite a lot. The best identifying features are its often many-flowered inflorescence, at most usually only slightly lobed leaves, and the form of the capsule. The number of the rays of the stigma disc on top of the capsule is a much-used marker in classifying poppies, but it has been noted that it varies a lot according to circumstance.

Acclaimed and maligned in equal measure, the opium poppy is an old medicinal plant whose latex-like sap includes many alkaloids, the most important of which are morphine, codeine and papaverin. Opium is used medicinally to relieve pain, as a cough medicine and to treat diarrhea. Apart from being an important medicinal plant, opium poppy is also used as an illicit drug. The ornamental opium poppy’s latex has no narcotic value. There are no alkaloids in the seeds, but their oil is used for flavor in baking, and the whole seeds may be used for decoration.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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