Papaver somniferum  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the type of poppy from which opium and many refined opiates, including morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine, and noscapine, are extracted. The binomial name means, loosely, the "sleep-bringing poppy", referring to its narcotic properties. The seeds are important food items, and contain healthy oils used worldwide in the culinary arts. The plant itself is valuable for ornamental purposes, and has been known as the "common garden poppy". It is widely grown in ornamental gardens throughout Europe, North America, South America, and Asia.

Popular culture

Recently a feature film entitled, "The Opium Eater" was released exploring the life of Eric Detzer and how he would go about acquiring opium poppies from flower shops and gardens in the Pacific Northwest (north of Seattle) to feed his addiction. This is a true story based on an autobiography, "Poppies: Odyssey of an Opium Eater" written by Detzer starring David Bertelsen. Since the festival release of this film in Breckenridge, CO, eBay has stopped allowing the sale of opium poppy pods on their auction site. This may also be attributed to the death of a Colorado teen who overdosed on opium tea around the same time.

What may be the most well known literary use of the poppy occurs both in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and in MGM's classic 1939 film based on the novel.

In the novel, while on their way to the Emerald City, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion walk through a field of poppies, and both Dorothy and the Lion mysteriously fall asleep. The Scarecrow and the Tin Man, not being made of flesh and blood, are unaffected. They carry Dorothy to safety and place her on the ground beyond the poppy field. While they are considering how to help the Lion, a field mouse runs in front of them, fleeing a cougar. The Tin Man beheads the cougar with his axe, and the field mouse pledges her eternal gratitude. Being the Queen of the Field Mice, she gathers all her subjects together. The Tin Man cuts down several trees, and builds a wagon. The Lion is pushed onto it, and the mice pull the wagon safely out of the poppy field.

In the 1939 film, the sequence is considerably altered. The poppy field is conjured up by the Wicked Witch of the West, and it appears directly in front of the Emerald City, preventing the four travelers from reaching it. As in the novel, Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep, but in a direct reversal of the book, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are unable to carry Dorothy. Glinda, who has been watching over them, conjures up a snowfall which kills the poppies' narcotic power and enables Dorothy and the Lion to awaken. Unfortunately, the Tin Man has been weeping in despair, and the combination of his tears and the wet snow has caused him to rust. After he is oiled by Dorothy, the four skip happily toward the Emerald City.

In Baum's other Oz books, Oz's ruler, Princess Ozma, is often shown wearing poppies in her hair as decoration.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Papaver somniferum" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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