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Red Field Poppy (courtesy of flowerinfo.org)

As it is Remembrance Sunday today I thought I would do a post about the poppy. It also happens to be one of my favourite flowers.

The Latin for poppy is Papaver and all poppies belong to the Papaveraceae family of plants. There are annual, biennial and perennial forms of poppy.

The red field poppy or Papaver rhoeas is the symbol of remembrance in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries. It self seeds freely and its seeds can lie dormant for long periods until the soil is disturbed and then the seeds are triggered into germination. This is what happened in the fields of France and Belgium during the First World War. The impact of trench warfare disturbed the soil and as a result fields of beautiful red poppies bloomed. Even amongst all this death and destruction nature produced something truly beautiful. After the war the red poppy became the symbol of the lives lost. It was actually an American woman Moina Michael who came up with the idea of a memorial poppy after reading the poem In Flanders Fields. Her campaign was then taken up by a French woman, Anna E Guerin who was inspired to get French people making cloth poppies. It was 1921 when the first of these French poppies were introduced to Britain.

I love the delicate beauty of all poppies combined with the fact that they are quite tough little plants. I remember seeing my first ever red field poppy growing in a patch of baked earth by the side of a road in Yugoslavia. I was about 7 years old and thought it was incredible anything could grow there, let alone something so beautiful. Ever since then I have loved poppies.

All poppies share the same delicate papery petals. The flowers can be fleeting, damaged easily by adverse weather but then the seed heads left behind are beautiful in their own right. There are such a variety of colours from the red of the field poppy, the yellows and oranges of Icelandic poppies, the whites, pinks and purples of Opium poppies and everything from salmon pink to dark burgundy of Oriental poppies.

I can’t think of a better symbol for remembrance than the beautiful, delicate but tough little poppy.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Poem by Major John McCrae, 1915