The timing of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem the day after he buried his good friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer on May 2, 1915 gives us a clue that the red poppies he saw blooming in the agricultural region of Flanders Field in Belgium were spring bloomers. Have you ever wondered what kind of poppy it is that is he referenced? And why was it that the fields had so many in colour?
The poppies that John saw are called Papaver rhoeas. These poppies are an annual plant that can be found over much of Europe. In Europe they are known as the ‘common poppy’, ‘field poppy’, or ‘corn poppy’. They earned the name ‘corn poppy’ because their seeds would get mixed in amongst the corn seeds and grew alongside the corn as it matured.
The reason the fields of this battleground were so full of colour is because the soil had been disturbed in this area of Belguim with the building of the trenches in World War I, as well as with the digging of so many soldier graves. The seeds of this particular poppy could lay dormant for up to 80 years and would blossom when the soil was disturbed. The shifting of soil in combination with a great deal of rain that particular spring encouraged the growth of these poppies. In this area of Europe, Papaver rhoeas typically blooms in late spring and early summer.
The Papaver rhoeas grows best in full sun and to a height of 12-24” tall. It’s an easy to grow, zone 4-8 plant plant that prefers well drained soil. They resow freely, are very prolific reproducers that work well in borders and cottage garden beds. The seeds are said to have a nutty flavour and are used in poppy seed cake. The flowers have been used in the past to make dye. The good news is that deer don’t like them due to their terrible flavour.
These seeds can be found easily on line and would probably be fun to grow.
A huge thank you goes to the many people that gave their lives and to those who have grieved the loss of members of their family for the privileges we share as citizens of this good country we call Canada. And we are grateful to those who continue to faithfully serve our nation now.