Papaver somniferum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

1, flowering stem; 2, stem base; 3, fruit; 4, stamen; 5, seed (Achmad Satiri Nurhaman)

Papaver somniferum L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 508 (1753).


  • Papaver officinale C.C. Gmelin (1806),
  • Papaver hortense Hussenot (1835),
  • Papaver setigerum DC. (1893).

Vernacular names

  • Opium poppy, mawseed (En).
  • Pavot officinal (Fr)
  • Thailand: ya pi (Akha), ya fin (Lahu)
  • Vietnam: cây thuốc phiện, cây anh túc.


The origin of P. somniferum is not clear; suggestions range from south-western Europe to central Asia. No truly wild populations of P. somniferum have been found. The main areas of cultivation are in India, China, Turkey and the Balkans. In South-East Asia, it is grown in the "Golden Triangle" (Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Laos) and Vietnam.


Opium is traditionally used for its astringent properties in the treatment of coughs and diarrhoea, and also to relieve pain and to treat insomnia.


  • An annual erect herb, 50-150 cm tall.
  • Medium and superior leaves sessile with an amplexicaul base, varying from obovate to ovate-oblong, coarsely crenate-dentate, not deeply incised, strikingly glaucous, glabrous.
  • Pedicel glabrous or hispid, petals 3.5-8 cm long, lilac with darker base, white (with or without a dark basal blotch), red (with or without a dark basal blotch) or variously marked, entire or variably deeply incised, flowers often double, stigma much broader than top of the fruit, mostly 8-15-rayed.
  • Fruit a globose capsule, 5-10 cm wide, with copious latex.
  • Seeds blue, black, yellow or white.

P. somniferum is an extremely variable and complex species. There is still disagreement about its intraspecific classification. It does not thrive in the per-humid tropical lowlands.

Selected sources

  • [62] Anderson, E.F., 1986. Ethnobotany of hill tribes of Northern Thailand. I. Medicinal plants of Akha. Economic Botany 40(1): 38-53.
  • [63] Anderson, E.F., 1986. Ethnobotany of hill tribes of Northern Thailand. II. Lahu medicinal plants. Economic Botany 40(4): 442-450.
  • [64] Anderson, E.F., 1993. Plants and people of the Golden Triangle. Ethnobotany of the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. Dioscorides Press, Portland, United States. 279 pp.
  • [97] Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink Jr, R.C., 1963-1968. Flora of Java. 3 volumes. Noordhoff, Groningen, the Netherlands. Vol. 1 (1963) 647 pp., Vol. 2 (1965) 641 pp., Vol. 3 (1968) 761 pp.
  • [189] Broszat, W., 1992. Der Mohn (Papaver somniferum L.): Anbau und Markt einer wiederentdeckten Kulturpflanze [The poppy (Papaver somniferum L.): cultivation and market of a rediscovered crop]. Der Tropenlandwirt, Beiheft 47. Deutsches Institut für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft, Witzenhausen, Germany. 170 pp.
  • [193] Bruneton, J., 1995. Pharmacognosy, phytochemistry, medicinal plants. Technique & Documentation Lavoisier, Paris, France. 915 pp.
  • [202] Burkill, I.H., 1966. A dictionary of the economic products of the Malay Peninsula. Revised reprint. 2 volumes. Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vol. 1 (A-H) pp. 1-1240. Vol. 2 (I-Z) pp. 1241-2444.
  • [265] Chung, B., 1990. Effects of plant population density and rectangularity on the growth and yield of poppies (Papaver somniferum). Journal of Agricultural Science (Cambridge) 115(2): 239-245.
  • [266] Chung, B., 1992. The effects of plant density and irrigation on the lodging, yield and yield components of poppies (Papaver somniferum L.). Acta Horticulturae 306: 458-465.
  • [287] Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, 1948-1976. The wealth of India: a dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. 11 volumes. Publications and Information Directorate, New Delhi, India.
  • [387] Dwijendra Singh & Tripathi A.K., 1984. Insect-pest-complex of opium poppy in India and their control. Pesticides 18(4): 33-34.
  • [555] Hardman, J.G., Limbird, L.E., Molinoff, P.B., Ruddon, R.W. & Goodman Gilman, A. (Editors), 1996. Goodman & Gilman's the pharmacological basis of therapeutics. 9th Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, United States. 1905 pp.
  • [701] Kamo, K.K. & Mahlberg, P.G., 1988. Morphinan alkaloids: biosynthesis in plant (Papaver spp.) tissue cultures. In: Bajaj, Y.P.S. (Editor): Biotechnology in agriculture and forestry 4. Medicinal and aromatic plants I. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 251-263.
  • [813] Langer, R.H.M. & Hill, G.D., 1982. Agricultural plants. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 344 pp.
  • [823] Laughlin, J.C., 1992. Evaluation of six medicinal crop plants in Tasmania, Australia. Acta Horticulturae 306: 100-104.
  • [900] Mansfeld, R., 1986. Verzeichnis landwirtschaflicher und gaertnerischer Kulturpflanzen (ohne Zierpflanzen) [Register of agricultural and horticultural plants (withouth ornamentals)]. 2nd Edition, revised by J. Schultze-Motel. 4 volumes. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 1998 pp.
  • [931] Merlin, M.D., 1984. On the trail of the ancient opium poppy. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Rutherford, Madison, Teaneck, United States. 324 pp.
  • [1035] Nguyen Van Duong, 1993. Medicinal plants of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mekong Printing, Santa Ana, California, United States. 528 pp.
  • [1126] Perry, L.M., 1980. Medicinal plants of East and Southeast Asia. Attributed properties and uses. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States & London, United Kingdom. 620 pp.
  • [1167] Purseglove, J.W., 1968-1972. Tropical crops. Longman, London. United Kingdom. Dicotyledons. 2 volumes (1968), 719 pp. Monocotyledons. 2 volumes (1972), 607 pp.
  • [1277] Samuelsson, G. (Editor), 1992. Drugs of natural origin, a textbook of pharmacognosy. Swedish Pharmaceutical Press, Stockholm, Sweden. 320 pp.
  • [1296] Scheibelreiter, G.K., 1978. The poppy-cephid Pachycephus smyrnensis Stein (Hymenoptera: Cephidae). Zeitschrift für Angewandte Entomologie 86(1): 19-25.
  • [1304] Seddigh, M., Jolliff, G.D., Calhoun, W. & Crane, J.M., 1982. Papaver bracteatum, potential commercial source of codeine. Economic Botany 36(4): 433-441.
  • [1457] Theuns, H.G., Theuns, H.L. & Lousberg, R.J.J.C., 1986. Search for new natural sources of morphinans. Economic Botany 40(4): 485-497.

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