Poppies

Oz PoppiesThey now came upon more and more of the big scarlet poppies, and fewer and fewer of the other flowers; and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers he sleeps on and on forever. But Dorothy did not know this, nor could she get away from the bright red flowers that were everywhere about; so presently her eyes grew heavy and she felt she must sit down to rest and to sleep.

–L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger

Although L. Frank Baum stated his intention to create a twentieth-century American fairy tale “solely to please children,” some people believe that The Wizard of Oz is a political allegory written at a time when the Populist movement was active in the United States. In the alleged allegory, “Oz” stands for “ounce” (a reference to the gold standard), Dorothy is the essential American, the Scarecrow stands for farmers (and their troubles) and the Tin Woodman stands for workers (or alternatively, for the steel industry). The field of poppies represents a warning about things, ideas or states of being that appear to be attractive or enticing but may be quite dangerous. The sleepiness brought about by the poppies may represent a state of apathy or complacency.

The connection between sleepiness and poppies is due to the narcotic properties of Papaver somniferum, the Opium poppy. The Latin botanical name means “sleep-bringing poppy” and this association goes back to ancient times. In classical mythology, the goddess Ceres (Demeter) was grief-stricken after her daughter Proserpina (Persephone) was abducted by Pluto (Hades), the ruler of the underworld. To assuage her grief, Jupiter (Zeus) gave Ceres some poppy seed to eat so that she might sleep and forget her troubles.

The narcotic properties of the poppy have caused many governments to impose controls on growing poppies or possessing poppy seeds. This association is unfortunate for people who enjoy the many types of delicious baked goods that can be made with poppy seeds. Years ago, my husband and I went on a quest to find the best poppy seed cake available in Germany. We stopped at every village to purchase a sample from the local bakery. It was amazing how varied these cakes were; really, no two pieces were ever exactly the same. They were all delicious and it was impossible to declare a winner. I do not recommend this quest to anyone who wishes to remain slim and energetic. Come to think of it, by the end of our trip we found ourselves in a state of apathy and complacency.

In Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers, three meanings are given for poppy, according to colour:

  • Poppy, Red: Consolation.
  • Poppy, Scarlet: Fantastic extravagance.
  • Poppy, White: Sleep, My bane, My antidote.

While poppies are linked with sleep and forgetfulness, the poppy is also a symbol of remembrance. Following the trench warfare of the 1st World War which took place in the poppy fields of Flanders, red poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime. The Flanders poppy is Papaver rhoeas, also called Corn poppy.

Romneya No Map

Romneya Coulteri

Poppies belong to genera of Papaveraceae, which includes:

  • Papaver – corn poppy, Opium poppy, Oriental poppy, Iceland poppy, and about 120 other species
  • Eschscholzia – California poppy and relatives
  • Meconopsis – Welsh poppy, Nepal poppy, and relatives
  • Stylophorum – Celandine poppy or wood poppy
  • Argemone – Prickly poppy
  • Romneya – Matilija poppy and relatives
  • Canbya – Pygmy poppy
  • Stylomecon – Wind poppy
  • Arctomecon – desert bearpaw poppy
  • Hunnemannia – Tulip poppy
  • Dendromecon – Tree poppy

New GrowthYou might wonder why I’m thinking about poppies in February. In a small pot that came with me in the move, I’ve just discovered new growth–Oriental Poppies, still quite small but very promising! If memory serves me right, there are at least two varieties here, most likely the standard intense orange and a more delicate salmon colour. Something to look forward to in May or June.

"Oriental Poppies", mixed media, 11" x 15"

“Oriental Poppies”, mixed media, 11″ x 15″

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29 thoughts on “Poppies

  1. Pingback: Link Lucky Dip #4 | Syncopated Stuff

  2. At last! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to comment on this post from my phone but here I am at a real computer.
    I wouldn’t mind laying down in that poppy field.
    Mrs Daffodil, I love how your posts are a mixture of information, yourself and your beautiful paintings.
    I mostly visit photography blogs these days, but your posts continue to enthrall me.
    Sincerely I can imagine your making a book from your posts.
    I like your writing and the research you do. There’s an overall continuity of format and a damn fine format at that, as I’ve described above.
    Bravo, Mrs Daffodil!
    If I did award nomination thingies then I would most definitely nominate you but seeing as I don’t this will have to do. 🙂

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  3. It’s kind of funny, I first found your blog many months ago when I googled Matilija poppies. I followed your instructions (and had lots of fun). The first seedlings emerged a few weeks ago. I hope to paint mine someday too. Learning to paint is a longtime dream of mine.

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    • Welcome back! How exciting to hear that you have Matilija poppy seedlings! Did you use the burning method? Whatever you do, don’t try to move them. Please come back and let me know how they’re doing. And do pursue your dream of painting – I’m sure you will find it rewarding.

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      • I did use your burning method! Each little clay pot has a dozen or so seedlings. Not really sure what to do next. Wait until Winter, bust the pots with a hammer, and plant them? What do you think?

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      • Oh, dear. This is just where things started to go wrong for me, so I hesitate to give you any “advice”. At least you have several pots, so you could try different methods with each pot. Generally, spring seems to be the time when plants are most eager to grow, so you might be able to plant out a whole potful (very carefully) in a month or so. I got into trouble trying to separate the little seedlings.

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  4. Beautiful! I love poppies! The offer of some Welsh Poppy seeds still stands. They may have a better chance of thriving now 😉 “Come to think of it, by the end of our trip we found ourselves in a state of apathy and complacency.” I laughed when I read this.

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    • Thank you. I love to make you laugh. Now that I think about it, the Welsh Poppies probably would have a better chance of thriving now. Let me know when the seeds are ready to be collected.

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  5. Beautiful painting! The little patch of green near my home which in winter when blanketed with snow is filled with kids going downhill with their sleds is a field of poppies from late spring to summer. I love poppies in full bloom. 😉

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  6. I truly love poppies. I know you have been visiting my blog so I know you have probably seen some of the images I have shared of my poppies. I grow both Oriental poppies and the Papaver somniferum. The bees get drunk as lords on the pollen in the somniferums… The translucence and glow of the poppy flower is so very difficult to capture, I think you have done it very well here.

    I love your introductory remarks about poppies too; I never knew that the Wizard of Oz was a poltical commentary. I wonder if Baum knew….

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