22 May 2008

Memorial Day Poppies

Day 4 of Blogger not taking uploaded photos.

Memorial Day Poppies

At one time the holiday we now call Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. The first observance of Decoration Day in the United States was on May 30,1868. Flowers were placed on Union and Confederate soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

By 1890 all the northern states recognized Decoration Day. Southern states acknowledged it after World War I when it changed to recognition of soldiers from that war.

The flower that has become associated with the holiday is the red poppy.

The red poppy tradition comes from when the bombardment during World War I made the soil full of rubble and lime. Poppies took hold and thrived. When the war ended and the soil healed, the poppies disappeared.

The 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields” written in observance of the fallen soldiers is by John McCrae, a Canadian physician and soldier.

In Flanders Fields

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.

“In Flanders Fields” inspired a teacher in Georgia, Moina Michael, to wear a silk red poppy as a way to remember those who died.

Michael then wrote her own poem to acknowledge fallen soldiers.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Michael wore her red poppy when she volunteered in a New York City YMCA canteen. A French tourist, Madame Guerin, learned about the custom there in 1920 and began making handmade artificial poppies in 1920 to raise money for war orphans. Canada picked up the tradition in 1921.

In the United States in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars began distributing poppies in exchange for a donation. Then, disabled veterans began making and distributing artificial poppies. Donations collected are used to support veterans and their families.

Traditionally, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the poppies are worn on the lapel and placed on the gravestones at military cemeteries.

The poppy that is used is Papaver rhoeas or corn poppy from the Papaveraceae plant family. In nature, poppies are wildflowers whose seeds lie dormant on the soil until they are disturbed.

During wars, the ground is disturbed and poppy seeds germinate. In early wars, the seeds of the related opium poppy (Poppy somniferum) were made into pain relieving opium for battlefield injuries and surgeries.

Today poppy seeds are widely used as an ingredient in cake filling, in pound cake and muffins. Any alkaloid present in poppy seeds used for baking is miniscule, unreliable and inconsistent.

To grow poppies, plant the seeds in a sunny, sandy, well-drained spot. They will only germinate if the ground is disturbed because they need a small covering of soil. Rake them into the ground after sowing on the soil surface.

Poppies grow to two-feet tall; the 2-to-4-inch flowers are self-fertile, hermaphrodite, i.e. both male and female. Bees and hummingbirds are attracted to the pollen; deer and rabbits know that the leaves can be slightly toxic so they stay away from the plants.

Poppies will reseed if the seed heads are not harvested to use in dry flower arrangements. The fresh seed embryo is immature; seeds ripen in the heat of the late summer.

Look for these Papaver rhoeas seed names in catalogs and on seed packets: Corn Poppy, Field Poppy, Flanders Field Poppy, Shirley Poppy, etc.

New hybrid poppies are available in pink, orange, eggplant, white and pastels. Other poppies in catalogs include the bright yellow-orange California poppy (Papaver eschscholtzia californica), the perennial Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), perennial shade Celandine poppy, (Stylophorum diphyllum), and prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) for hot sun.

Most poppy seeds need either sandy, rocky soil or the freezing and thawing weather conditions of a winter on the ground. Germination takes from 10-to-30-days in optimum soil temperature of 60 to 70-degrees. Since wet soil can prevent germination, mix the seeds with a little sand when planting.

Any extra seeds you have at the end of summer can be put into the bird feeder.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing the link - but unfortunately it seems to be not working? Does anybody here at allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com have a mirror or another source?


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I have a question for the webmaster/admin here at allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com.

May I use some of the information from this blog post above if I provide a backlink back to this website?


Martha said...

Yes, you may use my research if you provide a linkback.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the outstanding posts