Red Poppies: A Memorial Day Tradition to Remember Veterans

For most Americans, Memorial Day signifies the beginning of summer and opportunity for remembrance of those who have served our country during times of war and of peace. Officially, Memorial Day was first observed on May 30,1968 and was originally labeled Decoration Day. In the following years, by an act of Congress, the day of remembrance was moved to the last Monday of each May and renamed Memorial Day. The tradition of the red poppy has become a formality of Memorial Day which is often overlooked.

Inspired by a poem entitled, “In Flanders Fields”, the poppy has become the flower symbol for the Memorial Day Holiday. From the poem, written by Canadian physician and soldier John McCrae, we develop a sense that the poppy represents the blood shed by soldiers during times of war. Although the poem was written by McCrae, the poppy was first recognized as the Memorial Day flower in 1915 when a woman by the name of Moina Michael began to sell poppies in an effort to encourage further recognition of the day. Michael helped to begin the National Poppy movement and to commemorate her efforts a 3-cent stamp was created in her honor.

The poppy, by nature, is a wildflower. It’s seed will lie stagnant in the ground until it is disturbed. During times of war, soldiers would, inadvertently, churn ground as they marched though fields. The result was a beautiful and overabundant growth of poppy flowers found to flourish in conditions where most other flowers would die. Also during war, poppies were often used by physicians in administering morphine to soldiers in pain as it produces a by-product opium painreliever.

For some local communities, poppies begin a month long Memorial Day celebration. For example, In Georgetown, Texas, the annual Red Poppy Festival celebrates the blooming of poppies as well as the Texas State Flower, the bluebonnet. The Red Poppy Garden Club, based in Texas, promotes the growth and care of poppies during a two day celebration during the last weekend of April. By historical account, the poppy arrived in Georgetown through the hands of historical war veteran, Henry Purl Compton. “Okra”, as he was fondly called, returned from service in the U.S. Army and presented his mother with seeds from Flanders Fields. It is believed that, from these seeds, the abundance of red poppies flourished on the slope of her property and later spread into the community with the assistance of birds and bees and now marks a celebration for Texas in the Austin area.

In honor of our veterans, planting a family of poppies in your own garden is simple. Whether you live in a house, condominium or apartment, the poppy is a flower that grows in abundance and is somewhat resilient in inclement conditions. Poppies grow 12 to 24″ in height with annual blooms 65-90 days in length. Poppies prefer full sun to partial shade and will grow in moist soil but prefer well drained and slightly drier climates. Your first blooms will show in early to mid summer. Keep weeds down with mulching and water only during extended dry periods. By adding a general fertilizer once a month, your poppies will provide beautiful blooms for your summer enjoyment.

So, begin a new family tradition and plant poppies this Memorial Day in remembrance of the soldiers who committed their lives for our country and for a daily reflection of peace and beauty.

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