Poppy (Ang. Sax. papig), the common name of plants of the genus papaver, the type of the order papaveroxew, or poppy family. Some botanists have united the fumitory family (fumariacea), which have very irregular flowers, with the poppy family, for which there seems to be no necessity. As formerly restricted, the poppy family consists of herbs (rarely somewhat woody) with a milky or colored juice; with alternate or radical, mostly divided leaves, without stipules; regular flowers, with two, rarely three sepals, which fall as the flower expands, and twice or multiple the number of petals; stamens numerous, distinct; ovary one-celled, with parietal placentae, and forming a capsular fruit opening by pores or valves; seeds albuminous with a small embryo. The larger part of the family belongs to the south of Europe and adjacent parts of Asia, and there is another centre in California and the neighboring states, where a similar climate is found. The genus papaver is distinguished from the rest of the family mainly by having its globular or oblong ovary and fruit crowned by a sessile circular disk, upon which the stigmas radiate from the centre; within there are as many incomplete cells, formed by the projection of the placentae into the cavity, as there are stigmas, and the fruit when ripe opens by as many pores, just under the disk, to liberate the seeds; the petals are crumpled within the flower bud.
There are 14 species of poppy, one in southern Africa, one in Australia, and the others in the temperate and subtropical parts of Europe, Asia, and northern Africa; but one species is native in the United States, and, what is rather remarkable, while other weeds of agriculture have become perfectly naturalized, the three or four species of poppy so common in the grain fields and other cultivated grounds in Europe are exceedingly rare in this country, and though they have been introduced they occur in restricted localities, showing no disposition to spread. The opium or common poppy (P. somniferum), besides being the species which affords the valuable drug (see Opium), is also the original of most of the garden poppies. It is a native of southern Europe, and both here and in England is to be found partially naturalized in waste places, having escaped from gardens. It is smooth and glaucous, with its toothed or lobed leaves clasping the stem at base; in its single state it has but four petals, which are white or purple; the garden forms are often very double and of various colors, such as white, rose, lilac, violet, and sometimes striped with these, and frequently with the petals beautifully fringed; this, and all other annuals of the family, should be sown whero they are to flower, and after they are well up be thinned to six inches apart, as it is almost impossible to transplant them successfully.
The single poppy is much cultivated in Europe for the capsules, which are an article of commerce under the name of poppy heads, and for the seeds; the capsules vary greatly in size and form, in some soils being three inches in diameter, which is twice the usual size; some are globose, others depressed and much broader than long, and they are sometimes met with greatly elongated. Poppy capsules are much used abroad for making a fomentation for painful affections, and for the sirup of poppies. The capsules owe whatever efficacy they may have to the morphia they may contain, and this is very variable, depending upon the locality where they are grown and the time of gathering; while some chemists have found in them 2 per cent, of morphia, others have failed to detect any whatever. The sirup of poppies, sometimes used in medicine for children, is a preparation which has no advantages over a sirup of morphia of corresponding strength, and the great disadvantage of containing varying quantities of the opium alkaloids; it is moreover apt to spoil; in fact, the preparations known by this name are likely to be made, not from poppy heads, but from opium or morphia.
The seeds, usually white, but sometimes black, are very numerous, and show under a magnifier a handsomely reticulated surface; they have a pleasant nut-like flavor, and, being without any of the narcotic properties of the plant, are used as food in various countries. In opium-producing countries the seeds, which appear to ripen perfectly in the capsules which have been scarified for opium, are an important part of the crop; they yield about a third of their weight of a bland, well flavored oil, which, though a drying oil, may be used when fresh as olive oil; the cake left after expression is a valuable food for domestic animals. - The field poppy, P. rhceas, known to the ancients as rhceas, is the common corn poppy or corn rose, found in the greatest abundance in the grain fields throughout Europe, but is probably truly indigenous only in the southernmost parts of that continent. It has an erect stem, 1 or 2 ft. high, with stiff spreading hairs; the flowers are large, of a rich scarlet color, with a dark violet eye in the centre; the small smooth capsule is globular. The petals of this species are used in European pharmacy for their coloring matter solely, as they have no narcotic property.
Semi-double and double varieties of this species, though their odor is unpleasant, are cultivated in gardens as French poppies and African rose, where they make a most brilliant show. The long-headed poppy, P. dubium, is scarcely to be distinguished from the preceding; it has more cut leaves and rather smaller flowers, but the chief difference is in the capsule, which is smooth and often twice as long as broad. This weed of European agriculture is sparingly naturalized in Pennsylvania, as is another species, the pale poppy (P. argemone), which has very pale red flowers and an oblong, hairy capsule. - Of the perennial species, the alpine poppy, P. alpi-num (sometimes P. nudicaule), a native of the northern parts of Europe, the Rocky mountains, and arctic America, is only to be found in cultivation in choice collections; it forms dense tufts of radical leaves, and throws up flower stems a foot high with large orange, yellow, or white flowers. The oriental or perennial poppy, P. orientate, is not only the showiest of all poppies, but one of the most splendid of all hardy plants; it is a native of the Caucasus; has ample leaves about a foot long and rough with white hairs; its hairy stems, 2 to 3 ft. high, bear each a solitary flower, 6 in. or more across, of the deepest scarlet, and usually with a blackish purple spot in the centre; a variety is called P. bracteatum, on account of some leafy bracts below the flowers, but this is not constant; indeed, a lot of seedlings will present considerable variety in this respect as well as in the shape of the buds and size of the flowers.
Planted where the flowers can be seen from a distance against a background of dark green foliage, this poppy makes a brilliant show. It may be propagated by seed, in which case it does not usually bloom until the third year, or by division of the roots, which should always be done as soon as the foliage dies down in August. - The horn poppy of Europe, glaucium luteum, is sparingly introduced, from New England to Virginia, near the coast; it has very glaucous, thick, hairy leaves, solitary yellow flowers, and a very narrow linear pod 6 to 10 in. long. The prickly poppy is argemone Mexicana, a native of tropical America, sometimes cultivated in gardens, and abundantly naturalized in the southern states as a weed. It is an erect, very prickly plant, with its much lobed, prickly toothed leaves often blotched with white, and bears large yellow, sometimes white flowers, followed by very prickly capsules, which open at the top by valves. It is a rather showy plant, and sometimes seen in cultivation. The California poppy is Eschscholtzia, a genus named in honor of Eschscholtz, a botanist who visited California early in this century.
There are four or five species, all smooth annuals, with pale finely divided leaves and slender flower stalks, each bearing a large orange or yellow flower; this genus is distinguished by the union of its sepals to form a long pointed cap, shaped like an extinguisher, which falls off entire as the flower opens, and in most species the receptacle or top of the flower stalk is dilated to form a rim on which the cap rests. These are popular garden annuals, E. Californica being the most common, but the species are much confused, and the seedsmen have given specific names to mere garden forms; the flowers range from white through salmon and the brightest yellow to orange; they are most effective in masses, and a bed of them is very brilliant. So abundant are these plants in California that large patches of them on the hills near the coast may, when the sun is favorable, be seen from a considerable distance at sea. The tree poppy of California, dendromecon rigi-dum, is remarkable as being a shrubby member of the family; it grows 3 to 5 ft. high and has large yellow flowers.
The bear poppy, arctomecon Califomicum, was described by Torrey from poor specimens brought home by Fremont in 1844, and has been regarded as a doubtful genus; but in 1874, 30 years later, it was rediscovered by Dr. C. C. Parry, and proves to be quite distinct.
Common Poppy (Papaver somniferum).
Smooth-fruited Corn Poppy (Fapaver dubium).