(this blog post was originally published on November 11, 2012)
Species name: Papaver rhoeas
Common name: corn poppy, Flanders poppy
Location: picture 1 from 416-florist (click HERE), picture 2 from Wikipedia (click HERE), picture 3 from The Canadian War Museum (click HERE), picture 4 from the City of Toronto website (click HERE)
Today across much of the world is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, where we pause to remember the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for their country. The day was officially dedicated in 1919, and it was actually on November 7th, not November 11th. The date of remembrance was changed to reflect the signing of the Armistice by Germany at the end of World War I, which was somewhere between 5:12 and 5:20 am on November 11th 1918 (often referred to the "eleventh hour"). The war officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th 1919.
The symbol of the poppy as the official flower of remembrance actually occurred as an "accident," as in it was not specifically chosen by anyone to represent war or remember lost soldiers. The corn poppy thrives in highly disturbed regions in Europe (where it grows like a weed), so it was one of the first plants to colonize battlegrounds. Poppies often bloom all at the same time, so entire fields will be bathed in brilliant red all at the same time. This image was made especially poignant by a Canadian physician for the army during World War I, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was present for a burial ceremony for one of his friends that died in the Second Battle of Ypres on May 2nd 1915. He wrote the poem "In Flanders Fields" from the back of an ambulance while thinking about how remarkable it was that the corn poppy was one of the first plants to grow over the graves of the dead. He thought they symbolically represented the blood shed by those soldiers fighting for freedom, and so penned one of the most famous pieces of poetry ever written. While the poppies in Flanders Field are long gone (they are not a persistent species by nature, but also that area is a pristinely maintained area commemorating the dead of World War I), they symbolically remain the flower of remembrance. John McCrae died of meningitis in Boulogne, France, on January 28th 1918. He would never return to Canada.
Today we pause to remember the men and women that have lost their lives fighting to protect their country, and to help others protect theirs. We thank them for making the ultimate sacrifice, as we know that without their actions the world would be very different form how it is today.
Lest we forget.
- 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.