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How Did The Poppy Become a Symbol of Remembrance?

We all know the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

But, how did this association start?

What caused this beautiful flower to be so connected with remembering people who died in conflict?

At Blooming Haus, flowers are our passion.

And, we love sharing what we know about their history and associations.

So, we're here to share our insights into the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

And, we'll show you other meanings this flower is associated with.

Ready to learn more?

Keep reading?

How Did The Poppy Become 'The Flower of Remembrance'?

1. Why is The Poppy a Symbol of Remembrance?

For most people, the poppy's reputation as a symbol of remembrance lies in the landscapes of the First World War.

The flowers were commonly seen on the battlefields after conflict churned up the soil prompting them to grow.
Canadian doctor John McRea was inspired by the poppy when he wrote his poem "In Flanders Fields" while serving in Ypres.

The verse began,

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row"

McRae's poem was published in Punch and inspired American humanitarian Moina Michael to write,

"And now the Torch and Poppy Red, we wear in honour of our dead…"

She also began to campaign for the poppy to become a symbol of remembrance for those who perished during the war."
Image courtesy of VFW POST 3617
Since those early days, the poppy has become closely associated with Armistice Day which is 11 November, and Remembrance Sunday which is the closest Sunday following that date.

The poppy has also become more widely recognised as a way of remembering those who have given their lives in all conflicts.

So, on VE Day, the poppy helps us to remember the casualties of the Second World War.

2. The Selling of Artificial Poppies in Britain

Artificial poppies are sold in Britain each year.

The Royal British Legion is responsible for selling them.

The sale of the artificial poppy first took place in Britain in 1921, the same year that the Royal British Legion was created by founders including Earl Haig.
These original artificial poppies were created by Anna Guérin who sold them to raise money for war orphans in France.

She was in the UK at the time, hoping to sell the poppies in London.

Anna met with Earl Haig and persuaded him to adopt the poppy as the symbol of the Royal British Legion.

This was agreed to and the Legion ordered nine million poppies to sell on 11 November 1921.

The sale of these poppies, which were made from silk, raised £106,000 to help ex-servicemen and their families.

Given the popularity of these original poppy sales, a factory was set up the following year, to allow the flowers to be produced in Britain.
The factory remains in operation to this day and produces millions of poppies each year.

Today's remembrance poppies are made from paper, not silk but they remain the same special symbol of remembrance they've always been.

And the donations that millions of people make to purchase a poppy help support servicemen and women whose lives have been changed as the result of war.

The sale of the remembrance poppy happens every year in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday.

3. The Poppy in the Napoleonic Wars

The poppy is most commonly associated with World War I as a symbol of remembrance.

But, they were mentioned in connection with battlefields as far back as the Napoleonic Wars.

Anonymous documents written at the time referred to poppies growing at battle scenes where soldiers had fallen.
These wars took place from 1803 to 1815 between the French Empire and various coalitions of other European countries.

They continued until Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and sent into exile.

And the poppy was noted as a familiar sight throughout the various conflicts.
Sources who mentioned the poppy at the time compared its blood-red colour to the shade of blood spilled on the battlefields.

As the battles raged, so the earth was disturbed and more poppies emerged.

They were a reminder of the Napoleonic Wars long after the exile of Napoleon I.

This is an example of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance long before it was adopted by the Royal British Legion.

4. The Poppy as a Symbol Internationally

As luxury floral designers, we love the symbolism that flowers bring into people's lives.

We looked at this in our recent journal post,

"Easter Flowers | 10 Symbolic Choices & Their Meanings (2022)"

And we have our own meanings behind flowers like the poppy.

Michal, in particular, has amazing memories of long summer evenings amidst poppies with their silky leaves.

And he remembers eating his grandma's poppy seed cakes during sunny weekends in Poland.
Dishes with poppy seeds are often eaten as part of Slavic culture when someone dies or during a celebration of baptism.

This happens because the poppy symbolises a crossing between life and death in this culture.

This isn't the only symbolism that's associated with the poppy, aside from its connection with remembrance.

Meanings of the poppy include:

Sleep - The drug morphine which is derived from poppies is named after Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep and dreams.

Dreams - Dreams of poppies are said to be important messages.

Imagination - Poppies are said to be a reminder that imagination can make life magical.

Sacrifice - In Christianity, the colour red poppy is often said to symbolise the blood of Christ on the cross.

And, the poppy's association with World War I is also connected with sacrifice as is the Roman poet Virgil's mention of the flower in his poem Aeneid written around 25BC.

Regeneration - As well as being associated with death, poppies are also often taken to mean regeneration as they are able to grow in poor soil conditions.

This is why these flowers are often used when farmers need to rotate crops.

The eternal life of the soul - Poppies are often regarded on a spiritual level as a reminder that the soul evolves when it leaves the human body.
The poppy as a symbol of remembrance is linked to the red version of the flower.

In Asian countries, this colour of poppy is also associated with success, good fortune, and romantic love.

Other colours of poppy have their own meanings:

- Pink poppies symbolise compassion and platonic love.
- Orange poppies stand for health and regeneration.
- Yellow poppies represent optimism and the ability to look on the bright side as well as positive memories of people who have died.
- White poppies signify innocence and purity and are associated with faith and the eternal soul.

5. Embracing the Symbolism of the Poppy

Poppies as a symbol of remembrance are most associated with the Royal British Legion, Armistice Day, and Remembrance Sunday.

But, you can embrace their symbolism of remembrance, and other meanings, at other times.

Poppies will grow in most moist but well-drained soils and they're a popular addition to a garden.

Dead-heading helps to prolong the period of flowering.

When growing poppies, they should be planted directly into garden soil and not in planters.

They are most often grown from seed but oriental poppies are grown from root cuttings.
With a little bit of work, a garden can bloom with an array of poppy colours from late spring to early summer.

So they're present as a symbol of remembrance on VE Day.

Poppy colours range from white to shades of pink and deep red.

Even if you don't plant poppies in your own garden, you can still appreciate their beauty and meaning.

Wild poppies begin to grow in mid-June and continue to flower into September or even October, depending on the weather conditions.

You can spend time admiring them in fields or parkland.

Poppies also make a colourful addition to floral displays.
As floral design professionals, the team at Blooming Haus is passionate about creating colourful and unique displays using flowers such as poppies.

Each of our creations is designed and completed with great care and attention to detail.

And all of our processes are focused on sustainability.

So, you can enjoy the symbolism of the poppy and know that you're protecting the planet at the same time.
Flowers by Blooming Haus
Take a look at our online shop for examples of our luxurious and exclusive floristry.

You can browse through our collection of stunning florals.

We're also happy to help with expert floral design services for events and corporate hospitality.

Call us on 020 3389 9609 to begin the conversation.

Or, send an email to contact@bloominghaus.com if you prefer.

We'd love to hear from you and help you with the floral artistry you need.

Have questions about the poppy or anything in this article?

Pop your questions or anything else you have to say, in the comments.

We'll get on it as soon as we can.

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