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Opium poppy

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Opium poppy
Scientific Classification
Binomial Name

Papaver somniferum

Field of poppies.jpg
Field of Poppies

The Opium poppy is a flowering poppy that is best known for its use in making opioid drugs. The plant itself is about 1.5 to 3 feet tall with few leaves and a single flower. The flowers come in colors such as pink, red, and purple. Although beautiful in appearance, the seeds and oils of this plant can be used to help make opium, morphine, codeine, heroin, methadone, and many other addictive yet seemingly healing drugs. The history of the beginning of the trade of this plant is also fascinating topic. This plant's trading between Britain and China sparked the opening of foreign trade between China and many other parts of the world.

Body Design

A beautiful blooming Papaver Somniferum.

The stem of the Opium poppy is fully erect standing at about 1.5 to 3 feet tall. The stem itself produces very rough, coarse and bristly hairs. There are multiple branches reaching off of the main stem. the leaves growing straight from the stem without a stalk. The leaves also possess lateral veins, that go from a wide base to a thin tip. The flowers from this plant are bowl-shaped with a slight flare from the tips.Each stem has one flower, and that flower typically has four petals. The flower has an ovary,which is the hollow base of the carpel of a flower, containing one or more ovules. It also has a cluster of stamens,the male fertilizing organ of a flower, typically consisting of a pollen-containing anther and a filament. Seeds from this plant are small and kidney shaped, with about 200 per fruit. This plant comes in colors such as red, pink, and purple.

Life Cycle

An Opium poppy's life cycle is very similar to that of an angiosperm, which is a flowering plant. The reproduction of a poppy can be divided into five different sections. The reproduction starts with germination, which occurs in the spring. This occurs when the temperature rises and the moisture of the soil increases. This increase causes the seed to start to develop, including the growth of roots down into the soil, then the stem slowly moves upwards and finally the formation of leaves. The next step is budding. Budding is the development of buds on individual stems after the stem has reached full height. The full height on the poppy is usually about 1.5 to 3 feet tall. Next, the flowers begin to develop. The flowers main purpose is to attract pollinators. The flowers from this plant include purple, white, red, and pink. The next stage is fruit production. Fruit production occurs when the pollinated plant starts to produce cylindrical fruit. The fruits main job is to protect the seeds. The fruit then grows a latex product that can be harvested from the start to finish of it blooming. This product is picked and used for medicinal purposes such as the production of morphine and codeine. The final stage, restarting the cycle, is the disposal of seeds. Occurring in the fall, the plant will dry out and dispose thousands of seeds. These seeds will either fall into the soil, or blown by the wind and be carried away. This starts the germination process over again. Once all seeds are released, the plant dies.


Dried Poppies.

The Opium poppy is highly used and cultivated in many areas of the world. However, it was originally native to western Asia and northeastern Europe. This plant prefers rich moist soil over dry and frigid environments.

Medicinal Use

Products that can be acquired from the poppy include soquinoline alkaloids morphine, codeine, noscapine, papaverine, and thebaine. These all of which need to be taken from the plant one to three weeks after flowering. It is then collected and isolated from the dried material. The main requirements for the total amount of alkaloids expressed include temperature, plant species, light, and time of the harvest.

The poppy possesses many different healing qualities. For example, it can be used as a sedative (due to its narcotic power), a hypnotic, an astringent, an expectorant, an aphrodisiac, an antispasmodic, and an analgesic. The purpose for which poppies are widely known is for their use for codeine and morphine, both of which are narcotic and highly addictive. Most narcotic plants are highly addictive due to the affect they have on the opiate receptors in the brain, although they do give relief of pain. The opiates that can be taken from this plant also can create synthetic drugs such as heroin and methadone.

The oil taken from this plant can also be used as a cooking oil in different culinary dishes. After the opium yield is lost, then the poppy seeds and fixed oil can be taken without being narcotic.Opium poppies can be used for a variety of different things.

Opium Wars

The Opium Wars were two wars that broke out between China and Western territories in the 19th century regarding the importation of Opium. The first war involved Great Britain and China. China had put restrictions on foreign trade, and Britain, wanting to balance out tea purchases, began smuggling opium into China. China revolted by destroying a large carton of opium that they confiscated from the British. Great Britain responded by sending in gun boats to stop China's ban on foreign trade. China, unable to fight back against Britain's modern arms, was forced to surrender and sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) and the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue (1843). These treaties opened up multiple ports to Britain for trade.

1856 marked the beginning of the second war. China supposedly illegally searched a British ship, causing the British and French to go against China. They took over two important Chinese ports and forced the Chinese to sign the treaties of Tianjin (1858). This would open up many more ports for foreign trade, not just for Great Britain. Instead it would include France, Russia, and the United States. Along with the opening of ports, this treaty allowed Christian missions to take place in China, and legalized the importation of opium. Eventually after some rioting from Britain and France, the hostilities were completed.