Opium poppy pods, or better know by their scientific name Papaver Somniferum, are considered to be annual plants. What does this mean? Basically, the plant matures 1 time and does not regenerate itself over and over again. New opium poppy seeds must be planted each season. Opium poppy pods begin from a small seed and then they grow, flower, and produce opium poppy pods only once. The entire growth cycle for the majority of varieties of opium poppy pods takes approximately 120 days. The miniscule opium poppy seeds germinate quickly in warm climates and ample soil moisture. In about six weeks, the young opium poppy pod plant emerges from the soil, grows a set of 4 leaves, and resembles a small head of lettuce in appearance. The lobed, spiked edged leaves are a greenish color with some opium poppy pods having a light gray or blue hue.
Around two months, the dried opium poppy pods will grow from one to two feet in height and you will see one long, smooth stem as the main stem. The uppermost portion of this stem does not have leaves and is called the 'peduncle.' Other secondary stems are called 'tillers' and may grow from the primary stem of the dried opium poppy pods plant. Single opium poppy pods plants in Southeast Asia frequently have more than one tiller.
The primary stem of a fully matured Papaver Somniferum, opium poppy pods plant, ranges between three to five feet in total height. The greenish colored leaves are oval shaped, jagged and lobed and vary between five to fifteen inches in length when fully matured. The matured leaves of these dried opium poppy pods have no commercial value and are usually used as animal feed.
As the opium poppy pods plant grows tall, the primary stem and each tiller sprout into a flower bud. During the growth stages of the bud, the peduncle portion of the stem lengthens and forms a distinctive hook-like shape that causes the bud to be flipped upside down. As the opium poppy pods flower develops, the peduncle straightens and the buds begin to point upwards. After a few days the buds will firstly begin to point upward and then the 2 outer sections of the bud, called 'sepals,' drop off therefore exposing the flower petals. When you first notice it, the exposed flower blossom seem to be crushed and crumpled, but soon afterward the petals begin to expand and become smooth in the sun. Opium poppy pods flowers have 4 petals and they may be single or double and are either purple, pink, reddish brown, brick red or even white.
Opium poppy pods generally flower after approximately 90 days of development and continue to flower for two to three weeks after that. The petals soon drop off to reveal a small, round, greenish pod which continues to grow. These dried opium poppy pods, also known as opium poppy seed pods, capsules, bulbs, or poppy heads, are either globoid or oval and mature to about the size and shape of a regular chicken egg. The globoid shaped pods are more commonly found many regions of Southeast Asia.
If you're wondering how to harvest opium from poppy pods you have to realize that only the pod portion of the plant can produce opium alkaloids. The outer skin of the opium poppy pods encases the wall of the poppy pod ovary. The ovary wall is made up of 3 distinct layers which includes the outer, middle and inner layers. The plant’s latex, also known as raw opium gum, is produced within the ovary wall and runs off into the middle layer through a system of tubes and vessels within the opium poppy pod. The cells of the middle layer secrete more than 95% of the opium from poppy pods when the pod is harvested and scored.
Farmers harvest the opium from each of the opium poppy pods while they remain on the plant by making long vertical incisions with a uniquely designed knife. After the opium from poppy pods are collected, the pods are allowed to dry on the stem. After they are properly dried, the largest and most productive dried opium poppy pods are severed from the primary stem, and the opium poppy seeds are removed and dried in the sun before storing them for the following year’s planting and harvesting. Another method of collecting opium poppy seeds is to gather them from unscored opium poppy pods since scoring may cause the quality of the seeds to be much less. Besides being used as planting seed, opium poppy seeds may also be pressed to make cooking oil. Poppy seed oil are also used to manufacture various perfumes and paints. Opium poppy seed oil is yellowish in color, has no odor, and has a pleasing taste similar to that of almonds.