Poppies grow in a field in Normandy, France, in June 2019. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

Poppies grow in a field in Normandy, France, in June 2019. (Lindsay Chung Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)

DUCHESS OF DIRT: The field poppy can be found in many parts of the world

Leslie Cox

Special to the Record

Now 10 years on since last I attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria with my dad, I still miss the special connection I always experienced. Standing beside him, I could feel his pride in his service to his country, his sorrow for family and friends who lost their lives and his gratitude for the lifelong friendships cemented during those horrific years.

My dad never talked much about his term of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Even when asked direct questions he was reticent in his answers. But he was always quick to commend his oldest brother’s service as a pilot training officer and his brother, the Spitfire pilot who was shot down over the English Channel while on an escort mission in 1943.

Actually, as the youngest of three boys, and with his brothers already serving in the RCAF, it was not mandated my dad enlist. But his belief in country and honour was strong.

So, it is with pride that I wear my poppy over my heart every November. That red flower that holds such meaning, strength and simple beauty – Papaver rhoeas, the field poppy.

The exact origin of this poppy species is quite obscure, although Americans often aver it is native to Europe and Europeans are quick to point to southern Europe.

But, according to the European Garden Flora, “the definitive manual for the accurate identification of cultivated ornamental plants,” this plant’s origin may be Eurasia and North Africa. This part of the world is where the practice of agriculture dates back to earliest times.

It is a safe assumption the field poppy was introduced to the rest of Europe and the U.K. along with various agricultural crops from the same area. If this speculation is true, that puts the date when the red poppy appeared in European fields sometime during the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600 – 1200 BC).

Bringing the time frame forward a few centuries, Papaver rhoeas has naturalized in many other parts of the world, such as North America, Australia and New Zealand. This brings up the question of whether this plant species may be a noxious weed as has been delicately implied on a few internet sources. So, I went searching.

According to the Royal BC Museum’s E Flora Distribution Map, there are only 10 recorded sites of the field poppy in B.C. Four on the mainland and six on Vancouver Island, five of which are in the Victoria area and one in Parksville… across from Dairy Queen.

Looking south, the EDDMapS (Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System) kept by USDA Plants Database shows six counties in Washington state where field poppies are found, six counties in Oregon and six in California.

I think we can safely assume from this data that field poppies are not invasive in the Pacific Northwest. But not to say they might be invasive in different climatic regions.

While searching information about Papaver rhoeas, I came across an interesting article about the true Shirley Poppy.

Sometime in the 1880s, a Reverend Wilks discovered one red flower with a thin white border on the edge of its petals in a patch of pure red field poppies. By carefully selecting and eliminating ensuing progeny, the reverend eventually developed a unique strain of Papaver rhoeas named ‘Shirley Poppy’ in honour of his garden in Shirley, near Croydon, England.

And from this poppy strain, came many of the beautiful double poppies we see on the market today.

I won’t be traveling to Victoria this Remembrance Day, but I wear my poppy in loving memory of my dad, my relatives and all men and women who have valiantly served their country. Thank you.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca.

Comox Valleygardening