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Poppy History

Papaver is a genus of poppies, belonging to the Poppy family (Papaveraceae).

Its 120-odd species include the opium poppy and corn poppy. These are annual, biennial and perennial hardy, frost-tolerant plants growing natively in the temperate climates of Eurasia, Africa and North America (Canada, Alaska, Rocky Mountains). One section of the genus (Section Meconella) has an alpine and circumpolar arctic distribution and includes some of the most northerly-growing vascular land plants.

Papaver grows in disturbed soil. Its seeds may lay dormant for years until the soil is disturbed. Then they bloom in great numbers under cool growing conditions.

The large, showy terminal flowers grow on long, hairy stalks, to a height of even 1m or more as in the Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale). Their color vary from the deepest crimson, lilac, or white, or violet, to bright yellow or soft pink. The tissue-paper-like flowers may be single, double or semi-double. The size of these flowers can be amazing, as the Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule) grows to 15-20 cm across.

The flower buds are nodding or bent downwards, turning upwards as they are opening. There are two layers. The outer layer of two sepals drops off as the bud opens. The inner layer consists of 4 (but sometimes 5 or 6) petals. There are many stamens in several whorls around a single pistil.

The ovary later develops in a poricidal capsular fruit, capped by the dried stigma. The numerous, tiny seeds escape with the slightest breeze through the pores of the capsule.

Poppies have a long history. They were already grown as ornamental plants since 5,000 BC in Mesopotamia. They were found in Egyptian tombs. In Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. People believed they would get a bountiful crop if poppies grew in their field, hence the name 'corn poppy'. In this case, the name 'corn' was derived from 'korn', the Greek word for 'grain'.

They are also sold as cut flowers in flower arrangements, especially the Iceland Poppy. They deserve a prominent place in any garden, border, or in meadow plantings. They are probably one of the most popular wildflowers.

In the course of history, poppies have always been attributed important medicinal properties. The alkaloid rhoeadine is derived from the flowers of the Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas). This is used as mild sedative. The stems contain a latex or milky sap.

___________REMEBERANCE DAY____________

In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day is a result of Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy emblem was chosen because of the poppies that bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their red colour an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare. An American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, was inspired to make 25 silk poppies based on McCrae's poem, which she distributed to attendees of the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' Conference. She then made an effort to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance, and succeeded in having the National American Legion Conference adopt it two years later. At this conference, a Frenchwoman, Anna E. Guérin, was inspired to introduce the widely used artificial poppies given out today. In 1921 she sent her poppy sellers to London, England, where they were adopted by Field Marshall Douglas Haig, a founder of the Royal British Legion, as well as by veterans' groups in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Some people choose to wear white poppies, which emphasises a desire for peaceful alternatives to military action.

The Royal Canadian Legion suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible.

Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day – is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.) The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November, 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; this was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.

_____________California State Flower_____________

Vast fields of Golden Poppies have ever been one of the strong and peculiar features of California scenery. The gladsome beauty of this peerless flower has brought renown to the land of its birth. Present everywhere, at all times in some form, it is not surprising that it has taken firm hold of the affections of the people, and that the homage of the nature-loving world is so freely offered it.

--Emory E. Smith, The Golden Poppy, 1902

Eschscholzia californica was the first named member of the genus Eschscholzia, which was named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso after another botanist, Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz, his friend and colleague on Otto von Kotzebue’s scientific expedition to California and the greater Pacific in the early 19th century.

The California poppy is the California state flower. It was selected as the state flower by the California State Floral Society in December 1890, winning out over the Mariposa lily (genus Calochortus) and the Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) by a landslide, but the state legislature did not make the selection official until 1903. Its golden blooms were deemed a fitting symbol for the Golden State. April 6 of each year is designated "California Poppy Day."

Horticulturalists have produced numerous cultivars with various other colors and blossom and stem forms. These typically do not breed true on reseeding.

A common misconception associated with the plant, because of its status as a state flower, is that the cutting or damaging of the California poppy is illegal. There is no such law in California, outside of state law that makes it a misdemeanor to cut or remove any plant growing on state or county highways or public lands except by authorized government employees and contractors; it is also against the law to remove plants on private property without the permission of the owner (Cal. Penal Code Section 384a).

California poppy leaves were used medicinally by Native Americans, and the pollen was used cosmetically. The seeds are used in cooking.

California Indians cherished the poppy as both a source of food and for oil extracted from the plant. Its botanical name, Eschsholtzia californica, is sometimes known as the flame flower, la amapola, and copa de oro (cup of gold), the poppy grows wild throughout California. It became the state flower in 1903. Every year April 6 is California Poppy Day, and Governor Wilson proclaimed May 13-18, 1996, Poppy Week.

__________Drying Seed Pods & Seeds____________

Look carefully at a flower. When the flower fades leave it where it is, do not remove it. Eventually at the base of the flower there will be some swelling. This is where the seeds are forming. Let the fading petals stay where they are and let them fall naturally, do not remove them. Allow the developing seedpod to grow without disturbance. The base of the flower will swell even more and soon you'll notice that the flower stem and the swollen base are turning a papery-brown color. This is an indication that the seeds are near to maturity and are almost fully ripe. In effect the plant is achieving its goal of reproduction for that flower, it has produced viable seeds and no longer needs to expend energy to keep it nourished, so it no longer sends nutrient-rich moisture up the stem to the seedpod. That is why the stem is browning—it is no longer being supplied with nutrients and water and so it is drying and dying back.

This drying action will continue for several days to weeks more and as the swollen pod continues to dry you will see it begin to open. Some pods make star-shaped openings; plants like poppies create a ridge of small circular openings near the top of the pod, this ridge of openings function like a saltshaker—tipping the pod over and shaking it will disperse the seeds. Some flowers, like snapdragon or columbine, make cup-like seedpods—their ripe seeds can easily pour from the pod. All flower pods will open in their own way when the seeds are ripe. These openings are essential so the plant can disperse seeds. When you see that the pods and stems are both brownish in color, AND you notice that the pods are starting to open you can then collect the seedpods knowing that the seeds are fully mature and ripe.

Some plants, like grasses, don't make seed pods but instead develop and mature their ripe seeds directly along the flowering stem. Some grass seeds may be so lightweight that their seeds can waft away on breezes, some grasses have heavier seeds that can drop from the plant when ripe, some seeds grow hook-like extensions that catch onto the coat of a passing animal--they are snagged-off the stem and carried far away before falling to the ground.

After maturity, gather the dried seedpods. Place the pods on open plates or in open bowls and stash them in a safe place where they won't be disturbed so the seeds in the pods can continue to dry naturally for another week or two. Afterwards, remove the seeds from the pods. Ripe seed from grasses can be stripped from the plant with your hand. To assure that the seeds are thoroughly dry spread them on an open plate for a few more days. Occasionally stir the seeds to make sure the bottom layers will get a chance to finish drying too.

Storing dry seed is easy. Some people use paper packets, some people use coin envelopes or small mailing envelopes will do fine too. Some people use small plastic reclosable bags but they make sure the seeds are bone-dry before placing them into the plastic bag and closing it. Seed, which is not completely dry, can grow mold and spoil inside plastic packets. Always label the packets so you know what's inside—you can write the name and information on the packets or make labels for the packets with a graphics program and your home printer. Store the seed packets where they'll be away from heat or direct sunlight. You can use cardboard file boxes to keep seeds in, some people reuse popcorn gift-tins that have a tight fitting lid. These are especially good if the seeds are stored where there might be mice—hungry mice looking for seeds can easily chew into cardboard and some plastics, it’s almost impossible for them to gnaw through the metal wall of a popcorn tin. Some people place their containers of seeds on shelves or in closets, or some use a drawer in their bedroom or dining room, some people like to store their seeds in plastic containers inside their refrigerator. It’s important to remember that when you store seeds in the refrigerator they are not going to benefit from cold-stratification unless they have been first sown into a moist sowing medium. Storing seeds in the refrigerator provides the benefit of cold storage but does not provide the benefit of cold-stratification, it will not enhance the germination of seeds which require cold-stratification for germination.

___________Poppy Pods Saving Seeds__________

Poppies are among the very easiest of flowers to gather seeds from. There are many varieties of annual and perennial poppy and the seed gathering method is similar to all.

Allow the poppy to flower and do not deadhead. The petals will drop and a seed pod will develop at the end of the stem. When the seeds have matured the capsule will brown and make a series of small openings just beneath the crown cap of the pod. These openings function similarly to a salt shaker whereas the seeds can be poured from the dried pod.

Gather the pods after they have browned and made seed dispersal openings. Allow them to dry for a week or so on a plate in a warm room. Afterwards the pods may be turned upside down and the seeds will then fall from it. A few taps on the pod will help to remove all the seeds from within.

Poppy seeds are very small black balls. They are often used in baked foods such as poppyseed streudl or poppyseed rolls and bagels, or they can be tossed with buttered noodles.