Saturday, May 2, 2009

Poppy (Opium Plant)

Poppy is the common name for several hundred species of plants in about 13 of the 26 genera making up the poppy family, Papaveraceae. These include the California poppies, Eschscholtzia; the plume poppies, Macleaya; the bush poppies, Dendromecon; and teh Mexican poppies, Hunnemannia. The genus papaver consists of about 100 species of annual, biennial, or perennial herbs native to the Old World, with a few from western North America.

Poppies of the genus Papaver contain a white; milky sap and have lobed or deeply dissected leaves and mostly long-stalked, large, showy flowers of red, white, violet, or yellow. The flower buds are generally nodding, or bent downward, due to the rapid growth of one side of the flower stalk. The flower have an outer layer of two sepals, which drop off as the bud opens, and an inner layer of usually four but sometimes five or occasionally six petals. The flower’s stamen are numerous and surround the pistil, which consists of many celled ovary capped by a multilobed, pollen receiving stigma. The ovary develops into a short capsular fruit with an upper row of windowlike pores (a poricidal capsule), roofed over by the dried, lobed stigma. The tiny seed escape through the pores when the capsule is shaken.

Poppies are grown for their narcotic content. The opium poppy, P. Somniferum, is an annual herb, about 1.2 m (4 ft) tall, with white, pink, red, or purple flowers. It is native to southeastern. Europe and Western Asia but is now grown throughout the world, except in several Country, where it is illegal. Opium is generally obtained from the latex or milky sap, of the unripened fruit capsule.

Poppies may also be grown for food. The small seeds are used as bird food and, especially those of the opium poppy, as flavoring in breads, rolls, and cakes. The seed have no drug properties, because the narcotic alkaloids are present only in the milky sap of the unriened fruit capsule, before the seeds develop). The seeds also can be pressed to extract their oil, which is used in cooking and in food preparation. The pressed seed cake can be fed to livestock. The seed oil of the prickly poppy, Argemone mexicana, is used medicinally (as a purgative) in parts of Africa and India.

Poppy seed oil has been linked in India to epidemics of dropsy and to glaucoma. The principal injurious ingredient is believed to be an alkaloid, sanguinarine, though researchers are not certain how the oil causes its damaging effects.

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