This Memorial Day weekend in Denver, and elsewhere across the United States of America, veterans will sell little red poppies. The artificial poppies are modeled after Papaver rhoeas, the red-flowered corn poppy.
Due to the blood red color of the blossoms, the poppy came to be recognized as a symbol of fallen soldiers. The symbol was popularized by the famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” A common weed in Europe, red poppies grew on Flanders Fields, the setting for by the poem by John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon and soldier.
But poppies have symbolized death since the Classical era. In ancient Greco-Roman mythology, poppy offerings were made to the dead. Tombstones include poppies as a symbol of eternal sleep.
Popular poppies around the globe
Poppies belong to almost a dozen different genera. In addition to popular Oriental poppies, Iceland poppies and California poppies, there are Welsh, Nepal and Himalayan poppies, as well as wood poppy and wind poppy, tulip poppy and tree poppy, pygmy poppy and desert bearpaw-poppy.
Poppies produce eye-popping flowers with petals of every color from hot red and orange to cool blue, and even black. Beautiful in every stage, poppies open from a bulbous bud to showy papery flowers with a whorl of stamens at the center.
Poppies as medicine and food
Remember in “The Wizard Oz” when Dorothy and company fell asleep in the field of poppies? Due to the opium extract from poppies, the flowers are associated with sleep and death. Poppies are the source for narcotics: codeine, opium, and morphine.
An exhibit on medicinal plants currently on exhibit at New York Botanical Gardens includes poppies. Read more about the exhibit at this link.
The plants also are the source of poppy seeds—popular for cooking and baking. In gardens, poppy seeds attract birds, while poppy pollen attract bees.
Whether you cultivate live poppies or purchase a poppy from a veteran or eat a poppy seed bagel this Memorial Day weekend, enjoy the holiday as we remember loved ones gone before us.
••• “Cultivate your corner of the world.
You grow your garden; your garden grows you.” •••
• Colleen Smith’s gift book “Laid-Back Skier” makes a sweet Easter gift! This whimsical, inspirational book includes lots of ski bunnies and encouragement for life’s ups and downs. Watch “Laid-Back Skier’s” brief YouTube video here.
• Colleen Smith’s first novel, “Glass Halo”—a finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize — is available in hardcover or e—book.
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