Poppy, a ‘prolific self-seeder’

This species is an annual and a prolific self-seeder. It was this trait that inspired John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders Field

November is the month of remembering those who have fought for our freedom. 2013 is the Year of the Korean Veteran.

Many families have been directly impacted by war…both historic and recent conflicts.

My dad and his two brothers enlisted in the RCAF during the Second World War. One brother trained fighter pilots. The other brother flew Spitfires. He was shot down in 1943.

Grounded due to hearing loss in one ear, Dad remained in England until the end of the war.

In my mom’s family…her uncle was rescued after his naval ship was sunk. Another uncle was part of the Dieppe Raid.

Then there is the family connection to the only British officer to fight in the American Revolution. But I do not think we had any relatives who fought in the Korean War.

However, I will wear my red poppy…as I always do…in honour of all veterans who have fought for us. Their efforts, and their lives, have great meaning. As does the red poppy. Particularly the poppy species the lapel pin signifies…Papaver rhoeas.

Commonly called corn poppy, field poppy or red weed, this species is an annual and a prolific self-seeder. It was this trait that inspired John McCrae to write the poem In Flanders Field back in 1915.

Seeds are an incredible organism. First off, all genetic information for the entire plant is hidden within the casing of this small embryo. Secondly, seeds will lie dormant until conditions are opportune to initiate germination.

Soils in most ecosystems are a natural seed storage unit for what is called a “seed soil bank.” Charles Darwin became interested in this phenomenon in 1859 when he noticed seedlings growing from soil samples taken from the bottom of a lake. Further studies revealed seeds taken from various soil depths were also germinating.

The lifespan, or longevity, of a seed tends to depend on the plant species. Some will only be viable until the very next time conditions are adequate for germination.

Other species are able to remain dormant for a number of years until the circumstances meeting their germination requirements occur again. Desert plant species are a good example of this latter scenario.

Still other seed species will only germinate after a catastrophic event has produced the right conditions…such as a forest or grass fire…which may not happen for many decades.

These seed soil banks have a tremendous effect on our ecosystems. They close the circle of life. New plants replace the old and dying. Cleared tracts of land are quickly regenerated because the soil has been disturbed presenting dormant seeds with more favourable growing conditions.

Such was the case in the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. The very battle that inspired John McCrae to write his famous poem. Two weeks of horrific combat did much to alter the landscape.

But for all the desolation throughout that period, what caught the poet’s eye were the colourful red poppies springing up on the battleground graves of the fallen soldiers. The entire area was a soil seed bank of Papaver rhoeas and other plant species.

Much was given up in that particular battle, plus others, but new life was also generated. This is what we must remember to be thankful for this month. And to all our veterans who have fought so hard for peace and freedom.

We wear our red poppies for you.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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