Papaver somniferum, commonly known as the opium poppy, or breadseed poppy, is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae. It is the species of plant from which opium and poppy seeds are derived and is a valuable ornamental plant, grown in gardens. Its native range is probably the eastern Mediterranean, but is now obscured by ancient introductions and cultivation.
This poppy is grown as an agricultural crop on a large scale, for one of three primary purposes. The first is to produce seeds that are eaten by humans, known commonly as poppy seed. The second is to produce opium for use mainly by the pharmaceutical industry. The third is to produce other alkaloids, mainly thebaine and oripavine, that are processed by the pharmaceutical industry into drugs such as codeine and oxycodone. Each of these goals has special breeds that are targeted at one of these businesses, and breeding efforts (including the use of GMO) are continually underway. A comparatively small amount of Papaver somniferum is also produced commercially for ornamental purposes.
It is increasingly a misnomer to call Papaver somniferum the opium poppy—as many varieties have been bred, and continue to be bred, that do not produce a significant quantity of opium. The variety known as Sujata produces no latex at all. Breadseed poppy is more accurate as a common name today because all varieties of Papaver somniferum produce edible seeds. This differentiation has strong implications for legal policy surrounding the growing of this plant.
Papaver somniferum is an annual herb growing to about 100 cm (39 in) tall. The plant is strongly glaucous, giving a greyish-green appearance, and the stem and leaves bear a sparse distribution of coarse hairs. The large leaves are lobed, the upper stem leaves clasping the stem, the lowest leaves with a short petiole.:40 It blooms between June and August. The flowers are up to 30–100 mm (1.2–3.9 in) diameter, normally with four white, mauve or red petals, sometimes with dark markings at the base. The fruit is a hairless, rounded capsule topped with 12–18 radiating stigmatic rays, or fluted cap. All parts of the plant exude white latex when wounded.:87:32