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Plants of the Poppy Family

      Watch for members of the Poppy family in flowerbeds. The leaves are alternate and they often have milky sap in the stems. Most are herbs, but there are a few shrubs and small trees in warm climates. The poppies have flowers that are regular and bisexual, with 2 to 3 separate sepals (united in Eschscholzia) and either 4, 8, or 12 separate petals (sometimes 6), plus numerous stamens. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 2 or more united carpels (syncarpous) forming a single chamber. It matures as a capsule containing many small seeds. The poppies are uncommon in the north, but quite abundant in the Southwest. Worldwide, there are 26 genera and 200 species, including 13 genera in North America. Many plants in the Poppy family contain narcotic alkaloids and an acrid latex sap. Opium is a narcotic alkaloid found in Papaver somniferum. Morphine, heroin, and codeine are derived from this poppy too. Narcotics depress the central nervous system, causing sedation and relief from the feeling of pain (analgesic).

Key Words: Petals in fours with numerous stamens and often milky sap.

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Papaver pleicantha. Prickly Poppy.

Papaver pleicantha. Prickly Poppy. Arizona.

Eschscholzia californica. California Poppy.

Botany in a Day

Papaver spp. Ornamental Poppy.

Papaver spp. Ornamental Poppy. Cultivated in our yard. Pony, Montana. The sepals detach at the bottom, falling away as the flower spreads open.

Papaver spp. Ornamental Poppy.

Botany in a Day

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