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Papaver (pron.: /pəˈpeɪvər/) is a genus of 70–100 species of frost-tolerant annuals, biennials, and perennials native to temperate and cold regions of Eurasia, Africa and North America. It is the type genus of the poppy family, Papaveraceae.
The flowers have two sepals that fall off as the bud opens, and four (or up to six) petals in red, pink, orange, yellow, or lilac. There are many stamens in several whorls around a compound pistil, which results from the fusion of carpels. The stigmas are visible on top of the capsule, and the number of stigmas corresponds to the number of fused carpels.
The ovary later develops in a dehiscing capsule, capped by the dried stigmas. The numerous, tiny seeds escape with the slightest breeze through the pores of the capsule.
The typical Papaver gynoecium is hypogenous with a globular ovary. The style is characteristically absent for the type species Opium Poppy, and several others, although those with a style do exist. The sessile plate-like stigmata lies on top of the ovary. Pollen-receptive surfaces. The characteristic fruit type of Papaver is the unilocular capsule. The stigmatic disc rests on top of the capsule, and beneath it are dehiscent pores or valves.
History and uses 
Poppies have been grown as ornamental plants since 5000 BC in Mesopotamia. They were found in Egyptian tombs. In Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. The origin of the cultural symbol was probably Minoan Crete, because a figurine known as the "poppy goddess" was found at a Minoan sanctuary in Crete. People believed they would get a bountiful crop if poppies grew in their fields, hence the name 'corn poppy'.
The seed-heads of Papaver somniferum are slit to release the latex, which contains various narcotics.
In the course of history, poppies have always been attributed important medicinal properties. The stems contain a milky latex that may cause skin irritation, and the latex in the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) contains several narcotic alkaloids, including morphine and codeine. The alkaloid rhoeadine, derived from the flowers of the corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas), is used as a mild sedative. Poppy seeds are used in baking and cooking, and poppyseed oil is used in cooking and pharmaceuticals, and as a radiocontrast agent.
The ancient Greeks portrayed Hypnos, Nyx and Thanatos, the gods of sleep, night and death, with the symbol of the poppy. The earliest written record appeared in the eighth century BC. Early Greek accounts seem to indicate the plant was used for euthanasia; on some Greek islands, women used it in old age to shorten the time left until natural death. Hippocrates (460–377 BC) was one of the first to emphasize the medicinal uses of the poppy and outline several methods of preparation. He described poppy juice as narcotic, hypnotic, and cathartic. He also recognized the plant’s uses as food, particularly the seeds. By the first century AD, Dioskorides wrote down the first poppy taxonomy. He distinguished between several different kinds, the first of which was the "cultivated" or "garden" poppies. He further distinguished two types within this category, ones with black and others with white seeds. Both had elongated capsules and the black-seeded variety was involuted. Historians speculate this variety was Papaver somniferum. Other species were in use, as well. Dioskorides named the “flowering” poppy as a type with strong hypnotic properties. This is believed to be Papaver hybridum. Finally, the “wild” poppy he described is believed to be Papaver orientale. Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian, later mentioned an “intermediate” type between the wild and cultivated poppy, likely Papaver rhoeas. He wrote about medical applications of the plant; the leaves and capsules were boiled in water to create juice, pressed and rubbed to create tablets, and the dried latex was used to form opium. These products were used in much the same way they are in many cultures today, to promote sleep and to relieve indigestion and respiratory problems.
A century later, Galen wrote even more extensively about the diverse applications of various poppy products. He wrote that opium was the strongest known drug for dulling the senses and for inducing sleep. He wrote about its use to treat a variety of ailments, including eye and lung inflammation.
The "opium wars" between China and Great Britain that occurred in 1839–1842 and 1856–1860 were the result of the Chinese Emperor’s attempt to suppress the increasing opium imports of British East India Company into China. In the first half of the 19th century, poppy seed oil was an important food crop, but large-scale production did not begin until Europe began to manufacture morphine in the mid-19th century. While 800–1000 tons of Indian opium are processed legally each year, this represents only an estimated 5% of total opium production worldwide; the majority is produced illegally. The first factory specializing in dry capsule processing was built in 1928.
Today, morphine and codeine are common alkaloids found in several poppy varieties, and are important drugs for much of the world. Australia, Turkey and India are the most important producers of poppy for medicinal use, while the USA, the UK, France, Australia and Hungary are the largest processors. In the United States, opium is illegal, as is possession or cultivation of the flower itself. However, the law is seldom enforced when poppies are grown for culinary or ornamental use. The Opium Poppy Control Act Of 1942 led to the “Poppy Rebellion”, and a battle between California farmers and the federal government. Today, the law and its enforcement remain vague and controversial, even inciting episodes between gardeners and "the poppy police".
They are also sold as cut flowers in flower arrangements, especially the Iceland poppy.
August 13th, 2012
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