Coca

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Coca (Erythroxylum coca) is a plant in the family Erythroxylaceae, native to western South America. The plant plays a significant role in traditional Andean culture. Coca is best known throughout the world because of its alkaloids, which include cocaine, a powerful stimulant.

The plant resembles a blackthorn bush, and grows to a height of 2–3 m (7–10 ft). The branches are straight, and the leaves, which have a green tint, are thin, opaque, oval, and taper at the extremities. A marked characteristic of the leaf is an areolated portion bounded by two longitudinal curved lines, one line on each side of the midrib, and more conspicuous on the under face of the leaf.

The flowers are small, and disposed in little clusters on short stalks; the corolla is composed of five yellowish-white petals, the anthers are heart-shaped, and the pistil consists of three carpels united to form a three-chambered ovary. The flowers mature into red berries.

The leaves are sometimes eaten by the larvae of the moth Eloria noyesi.

Contents

Species and classification

There are twelve main species and varieties. Two subspecies, Erythroxylum coca var. coca and Erythroxylum coca var. ipadu, are almost indistinguishable phenotypically; a related high cocaine-bearing species has two subspecies, Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense and Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense that are phenotypically similar, but morphologically distinguishable. Under the older Cronquist system of classifying flowering plants, this was placed in an order Linales; more modern systems place it in the order Malpighiales.

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