Field Guide

Poppy

Because of the narcotic properties of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), it is most commonly associated with sleep and death and with Morpheus (the god of sleep and dreams), Hyphos (another god of sleep), and because of its large seedpod, Demeter (the goddess of fertility and agriculture). It has also been used to symbolize extravagance and ignorance.

Sometimes the poppy is used as an attribute of Christ's Passion because the bright red color of some of its flowers is used to symbolize blood and death. In the Middle Ages, Christians gave the poppy some of the same attributes as ripe ears of corn, in a sort of symbolism by association since the red corn poppy grows in the same fields. In November, the British and the American Legion sell paper poppies to raise money for veterans, as a remembrance of the soldiers who died in World War I, especually in the poppies fields of Flanders, immortalized in the poem by John McCrae (1872-1918).

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.

Taken from A Graveyard Preservation Primer, 2nd Edition written by Lynette Strangstad, published by AltaMira Press, Lanham, Maryland, 2004. This book is a must for every cemetery preservationist!!!