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Why are poppies the flower of Remembrance Day?

Flowers have always held symbolism in many cultures around the world. One such flower is the red poppy, almost synonymous with Remembrance Day, observed in Canada. Poppies have become the flower of Remembrance Day for several reasons, with a significant connection to the famous war poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

The poem in Flanders Fields by John McCrae written out in front of a row of red poppies
In Flanders Fields Poem by John McCrae
  • "In Flanders Fields" Poem: The poem "In Flanders Fields" describes the poppies that grewamid the graves of soldiers who died during World War I in Flanders, a region in Belgium. The poem's vivid imagery and poignant verses made poppies a symbol of remembrance for those who had lost their lives in conflict.

  • Poppy Fields: Flanders, where many battles of World War I took place, saw extensive destruction and loss of life. Despite the devastation, the red poppies continued to grow in the churned-up soil, a symbol of resilience and renewal. The contrast between the poppies and the war-torn landscape made them a powerful symbol of remembrance.

  • Fundraising and Support: The wearing of red poppy flowers as a symbol of remembrance started with Moina Michael, an American professor and humanitarian, who was inspired by John McCrae's poem. She and others began wearing red poppies and selling them to raise funds for veterans and their families. The tradition of wearing poppies as a charitable gesture caught on and has continued for many years.

  • The Royal British Legion: In 1921, the Royal British Legion adopted the red poppy as a symbol for their annual Poppy Appeal, which raises funds to support veterans and their families. The tradition of wearing a red poppy to remember the fallen and support those in need became more widespread.

  • Global Recognition: The practice of wearing red poppies on Remembrance Day has been adopted by many countries around the world as a way to honor and remember those who have sacrificed their lives in wars and conflicts.

Where are poppies native to?

Red poppies in a field with dim sunlight
Red Poppies in a field

Poppies are native to various parts of the world, and different species of poppies can be found in different regions. Some of the well-known species and their native regions include:

  • Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum): This species is known for its use in producing opium and poppy seeds. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, including parts of Southeastern Europe and Western Asia. It has been cultivated and grown in many other parts of the world as well.

  • Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas): Also known as the Flanders poppy, it is native to Europe, including the United Kingdom and Western Europe. It's the species famously associated with the poppies mentioned in the poem "In Flanders Fields."

  • Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule): These poppies are native to subpolar regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, including Iceland, which gave them their name. They are known for their delicate, papery petals.

  • Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale): Native to northeastern Turkey, the Caucasus, and northern Iran, this species is prized for its large, showy flowers.

  • California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): As the state flower of California, this poppy is native to the western United States and northern Mexico. It's known for its bright orange to yellow flowers.

  • Prickly Poppy (Argemone spp.): Various species of prickly poppy are native to different regions, including North and South America, India, and parts of Africa.

  • Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambrica): This poppy is native to Western Europe, including the British Isles and parts of Spain and France.

Can you grow poppies in Ontario?

Yes, you can grow poppies in Ontario, Canada. Poppies are well-suited to the climate in Ontario, and they can thrive in various parts of the province. The specific type of poppy you choose to grow may depend on your local conditions and preferences. Here are some general tips for growing poppies in Ontario:

  1. Choose the Right Variety: Select a poppy variety that is well-suited to the Ontario climate. Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and the native corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) are good options, and they are often grown successfully in Ontario.

  2. Planting Time: Poppies can be planted in the spring or late summer to early fall. Spring planting allows them to bloom in early summer, while fall planting results in blooms the following spring or summer.

  3. Soil and Location: Poppies prefer well-draining soil with good aeration. They also like full sun. Ensure that the soil is rich in organic matter and not too heavy or waterlogged.

  4. Spacing: When planting poppy seeds, space them a few inches apart. Follow the planting depth and spacing recommendations on the seed packet for your specific poppy variety.

  5. Watering: Poppies don't require excessive watering once established. Overwatering can lead to root rot. Water sparingly and only when the soil is dry, especially in the summer.

  6. Mulch: Mulching around poppy plants can help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and maintain more even soil temperatures.

  7. Care: Poppies are generally low-maintenance, but you can deadhead (remove spent blooms) to encourage more flowering. They may self-sow if allowed to go to seed.

  8. Winter Protection: In regions with harsh winters, providing some winter protection by mulching the soil around the poppies can help them survive the cold.

It's important to note that some poppy varieties, like the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), are subject to legal restrictions due to their potential for producing narcotics. Be sure to choose poppy varieties that are legal to grow in your area. Always consider local growing conditions and climate variations in Ontario when planning your garden. With the right care, poppies can add beauty and colour to your garden in the region.

Are poppies invasive in canada?

Some poppy species, such as the Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) and the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), have the potential to self-sow and can naturalize in certain areas of Canada. While they are not generally considered highly invasive, it's essential to be aware of their potential to spread and take steps to manage them if needed. Here are some considerations:

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale): Oriental poppies are popular garden plants and may self-sow in favourable conditions. They can form clumps and naturalize if left undisturbed. While they may spread, they are not typically classified as highly invasive.

Opium Poppy (Papaver somniferum): Opium poppies are known for their cultivation for opium production, and in some regions, they have naturalized and can be considered weedy. In Canada, it's essential to be aware of the legal status and restrictions regarding the cultivation of opium poppies, as they are subject to regulations due to their potential for producing narcotics.

If you want to grow poppies in your garden in Canada, consider the following steps to manage their spread:

  • Deadhead spent flowers to prevent seed production.

  • Thin out crowded poppy plants to reduce their ability to self-sow.

  • Monitor your garden for any unwanted poppy seedlings and remove them as needed.

  • Be aware of the specific species of poppy you are planting and their naturalization tendencies. Some varieties may be more likely to spread than others.

Additionally, it's essential to be a responsible gardener and follow local regulations and guidelines regarding the cultivation of certain plant species.

Happy Gardening!

Red poppies in a field with sunshine
Poppies in a field

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