Significant Members of the Papaveraceae Family- Part 1

Who wouldn't want these beauties in the garden? Both are in the poppy family Papaveraceae.

The pink one is the opium poppy Papaver somniferum, whose green seed pods are the source of a white latex from which opium, morphine and heroin are derived. Historically opium has wrought havoc and wars have been fought over it. The properties of the plant had been known for a considerable time.... there is evidence of its cultivation in the Neolithic, 4000 years ago.

Who wouldn't want these beauties in the garden? Both are in the poppy family Papaveraceae.


The pink one is the opium poppy Papaver somniferum, whose green seed pods are the source of a white latex from which opium, morphine and heroin are derived. Historically opium has wrought havoc and wars have been fought over it. The properties of the plant had been known for a considerable time.... there is evidence of its cultivation in the Neolithic, 4000 years ago.


The 17th century saw the introduction of laudanum (tincture of opium ie dissolved in alcohol) to standard medical practice. Despite its highly addictive property, it was available without prescription up to the early 20th century! It was used as an analgesic, cough mixture, cure for diarrhoea, and relief of symptoms of cholera and meningitis. It was widely recommended to settle infants!

Although the species is the source of such powerful useful and destructive drugs, not all plants contain the alkaloids from which the drugs are made. As with most other crops, cultivars have been developed for special purposes, and most crop opium poppies are more correctly called breadseed poppies as the seeds are used in baking, curries and bird feeds, etc., and also produce a valuable oil which contains no opium.


Tasmania is among the world's biggest producers of legal opioid resin for production of the painkillers morphine and codeine, and is therefore an important part of Australian agriculture.


Other cultivars were developed to produce two different alkaloids from which the drugs oxycodone and hydrocodone are made. Recently it has been realised that these two have made their way insidiously into society from prescription to drug trade, and are responsible for much addiction and numerous deaths worldwide.


The yellow flower is that of a weed, Argemone mexicana(Mexican poppy) which will feature in a future post. It is an example of the importance of our ability to identify weed seeds in crops.


Cheryl Haxen


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