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Pakistan | Family List | Papaveraceae | Papaver

Papaver somniferum Linn., Sp. Pl. 508. 1753. Boiss., l.c. 116; Hook.f., l.c. 117; Clapham. et al, l.c. 98; Popov in Kom., l.c.; Chittenden, l.c. 1480; Cullen in Davis, l.c. 230; Rech.f., l.c. 15; Hakim Md. Said, Hamdard Pharmacop. East. Medicine, 65. 1969.

Vern. Afim, post or dodda and khaskhash are names applied to the alkaloid, capsule and seeds

Papaver somniferum

Credit: Shaukat

A robust annual herb, (20-) 30-100 (-120) cm tall, apparently glabrous, glaucous, rarely branched. Leaves ovate-oblong, cordate-amplexicaul except the lowest which usually narrows into a short stalk, undulate, serrate, crenate or dentate, often with larger teeth alternating with smaller ones, (sometimes pinnatipartite or pinnatifid), usually 5-15 cm long. Peduncle (5-) 10-20 (-25) cm long, glabrous or sparsely bristly. Flower bud ovoid-oblong, (10-) 15-25 (-30) mm long. Flowers large, showy, usually 5-10 cm in diam., white, pinkish or reddish, rarely pale violet, with or without a basal dark blotch. Sepals glabrous, caducous, as large as the bud. Petals about twice as long as the sepals, obovate-orbicular, with margin usually wavy or variously cut, caducous. Stamens as long as the ovary with, usually yellowish filaments; anthers 2-4 mm long, oblong-linear. Capsule subglabrous smooth with a rounded base often abruptly ending into a very short stipe (1-2 mm long); stigmatic disk somewhat shorter than the capsule breadth, with deeply cut marginal lobes and usually 8-12 (-18) stigma rays, not quite reaching the edges of the lobes; seeds small, white, dark-grey to black.

Fl.Per. April-June.

Type: South Europe, Herb. Linn. no. 669/8 (LINN).

Distribution: Europe and Asia; known from cultivation or as an escape in W. Pakistan.

It is very variable in flower colour and size, peduncle glabrous or sparsely bristly with spreading hairs or setae. A number of varieties or subspecies have been recognised by various authors, but it appears that due to free hybridization between these, many intermediate forms have developed liquidating the stand of many of these taxa. So much so that even Papaver setigerum DC. (Fl. Franc. 5:585. 1815; Papaver somniferum var. setigerum (DC.) Corb., Nour. Fl. Norm. 30. 1893; Elk. l.c 30; Boiss., l.c 116) with scarcely glaucous and somewhat bristly leaves and peduncles, and with usually violet or lilac flowers, can hardly be separated, as a separate taxon, from it.

However, the white seeded form is widely considered as the variety (or subsp.) somniferum and the black-seeded as the var. (subsp.) hortense. It is not possible to say anything about these from the herbarium specimens, which mostly lack in mature fruits and seeds.

Opium poppy is widely cultivated for its latex, containing alkaloids (specially Morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Narcotine, Narceine and Papaverine), obtained by scratching, notching or making incision on young fruits, usually with a single pointed needle, after the petals have fallen. Opium is used in diarrhoea, diabetes and rheumatism etc., and it locally relieves the pain. It is also an antidote to snake poison and scorpion sting. The seeds are demulcent, nutritive (specially the darkgrey and black ones) and mildly astringent, sedative and narcotic. They yield an oil, used in cooking; darker coloured oil is used for making soap in Europe. The seed itself is used in cooking, making sweets locally as well as in other places in Asia.


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