Standing gracefully in the herb garden this Memorial Day morning are the brilliant red Oriental poppies (Papaver oriental), still dewy before the heat of the day sets in. Some of the poppies flaunt their ruffled petals opened wide to the sun pushing out the deep blue pollen from the whorl of stamens in their centers while others bow their heads sleepily down not quite ready to greet the day. Their prickly stems and leaves stretch upward and outward claiming their prominent and rightful place among the early summer bloomers. The poppies' fiery hue and flouncy petals bring a joyous riot of color to their surroundings and, they seem to me, to be emblems of a sweet country life full of the richness the summer season has to offer.
Yet, their appearance does not truly reflect their persona in the world of floriography. Poppies have long been used as a symbol of deep, peaceful sleep and even death. Sleep
because of the opium that comes from them and death from the common
poppies' blood-red color that bloomed in fields throughout Europe where
World War One was fought. Poppies symbolize the sacrifices made in war and most especially our remembrance of the fallen soldiers on battlefields.
Although it is customary to wear a red poppy on Veteran's Day in November, the season for blooming poppies is late spring into early summer in just about every country all over the world and are often used on tombstones to convey eternal sleep--think Dorothy and her friends laying down in the field of poppies, falling asleep and never meant to wake up again, just before they reach the The Land of Oz. Adding to sleep and death in the meaning of poppies is another twist which comes from classic mythology where their scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection after death--again, think of Dorothy, the scarecrow, lion and tin woodsman awakened when it began to snow and they continued on their journey to OZ.
Lest we not forget that poppies come in a rainbow of colors and varieties from the pale pink-purple of the the Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) to the oranges and pinks of the California poppy and the azure blues of the Himalayan poppy. There are even white and black varieties. However, these in my garden are the fire engine-red prickly poppies, a bittersweet reminder of the losses in war we have all been touched by and the bucolic life portrayed in the scenes of French toille. So, I shall revisit these graceful herbal flowers, weeds really, throughout the day, so appealingly beautiful and full of peaceful remembrance. Have a Happy Memorial Day.