In Britain and other countries of the Commonwealth, at this time of year many of us wear the remembrance poppy. I’ve lived in England and Wales all my life so for me, mid-autumn has always included remembrance poppies. Many of us wear them to honour servicemen and women killed during World War 1 and in other conflicts since.

They’re not real poppies, of course. Not at this time of year. Remembrance poppies are made from red paper and sold to raise funds for the Royal British Legion.

The iconic design of the remembrance poppy depicts the common poppy (Papaver rhoeas), using its red petals to represent the bloodshed of war. P. rhoeas is an annual weed which appears on disturbed ground. At sites where trench warfare has been, for example: hence the poppy fields of Flanders. Also at sites of semi-natural grassland such as meadows and roadsides. In lowland parts of Britain, P. rhoeas is often to be seen blooming in early summer. Poppy fields give our landscapes great beauty and they’re of interest for science and conservation because they’re often rich in species of plants, insects and other organisms.

Poppies are good to eat, too. Their seeds are used in breadmaking and as a mild spice. Here are some poppy-seed recipes. P. rhoeas seeds are said to be mildly narcotic when raw. But unlike some other plant products, they’re not extolled as a ‘legal high’. Chris Harding at the Guardian tells us about hallucinogenic foods but he barely mentions the common poppy. Instead poppy seeds are promoted as a health food. Global Grains tells us about their nutritional value. Kanika Goswami at Buzzle tells us that Holland and Canada are world leaders in production of poppy seeds

It’s no surprise that the common poppy is mildly narcotic. After all, it’s in the same genus as the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). The seeds of P. somniferum are an important source of pharmaceuticals (morphine and codeine) as well as illegal drugs including heroin.

For gardeners, there are several more species and hybrids of true poppies, Papaver. There are white ones, yellow ones and orange ones. Carol Klein at the Guardian tells us about oriental poppies. But perhaps the most striking poppy of all isn’t a Papaver. It’s the Himalayan blue poppy (Mecanopsis spp.). Most ‘blue’ flowers are purple or mauve, but blue Mecanopsis really is blue.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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7 Responses to Poppies

  1. skezier says:

    I love the double headed ones we get this way growing wild…. Thanks for the recipes as well.

    Hey you asked me what creating was… I can’t find where but the calves were put in very small crates that they had no room to move in and it was to make sure the veal had no muscle…. It was hideously inhuman and i was so glad it got banned.

    I remember it in the early ’60’s and it was horrible as some didn’t seem to be able to even stand… bit like the horses and hrt eh?! I have synthetic lol. x

    • argylesock says:

      Were veal crates banned everywhere? I can’t have been paying attention when that excellent news broke. It was indeed very cruel and horrific. In fact, I don’t know whether veal sells well in Britain or ever will, because lots of us (including me) react against it because of those crates.

      There are other cruelties still being done, though. I don’t touch pate de foie gras under any circumstances. If I want to buy duck, I make sure it has the Freedom Food logo meaning that the birds were allowed to swim. I forget whether you were already following my blog when I posted a link to the petition ‘Like a duck to water’.

  2. Carol Hague says:

    I like all poppy flowers and the blue Meconopsis is lovely, but my absolute favourite is the tree poppy Romneya coulteri (nothing to do with that American bloke as far as I know). None of the pictures I found online really does it justice, in my opinion – the flowers are huge, with that characteristic poppy silkiness, offset by splendid glaucous foliage. I wish I had the space and the right aspect to grow them, but it’s just not bright enough in my garden.

  3. Charley McKelvy says:

    Someone had thoughtfully placed a red poppy on the statue of an American “doughboy” from World War I on the bluff in Saint Joseph, Michigan, U.S.A. And then I received your timely posting on poppies. Thank you.

    • argylesock says:

      I did wonder how N Americans feel about the memorial poppy. The USA was key in both World Wars and in many of the conflicts since then which involved, or still involve, the UK.

  4. Pingback: Woodland of the month: National Memorial Arboretum | Science on the Land

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