Poppies have quite the reputation. From seeds that helped create the narcotics movement to the infamous glittery poppy fields that put Dorothy Gale to sleep in The Wizard of Oz, these delicate flowers are steeped in western culture. But what their quaint little petals hide are sobering meanings surrounding war and death. Explore what the real-life meaning of the poppy flower is using every color in the rainbow.
Poppy Flowers and Their Historic Significance
The poppy flower's most common association today is with remembrance. Thanks to a unique historic phenomenon where scarlet corn poppies grow in the disturbed soil torn apart by war that's been documented as early as the Napoleonic Wars, we've come to acknowledge them as a reminder of loss.
This association really solidified during World War I when John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" documenting life on the front lines grew to fame. The ensuing publicity led many to champion for poppies to be worn in remembrance of everyone who'd died during the war. Today, many people wear silk poppies on their shirts on Memorial Day and Remembrance Day each year.
Red Poppy Meanings
Thanks to how embedded they are in our cultural imagery, you might know exactly what red poppies mean. Because scarlet corn poppies grow particularly well on the European continent when ground fighting tills up the landscape, red poppies have come to represent death and the remembrance of it. However, they're not meant to be worn as a macabre omen. Instead, they're supposed to be worn and planted in reverence of people who've passed in war.
During Memorial Day weekend, you'll likely see folks wearing red poppies on their shirts. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day, when you can receive a red poppy in exchange for donating to support veterans and their families.
White Poppy Meanings
Keeping in the war and conflict theme, white poppies are believed to mean the opposite of their red counterparts. Instead of being born out of death, these teeny flowers are used to symbolize life without conflict. They're worn, gifted, and planted by many organizations as a symbol of peace without violence.
Black Poppy Meanings
A striking debutant of a flower, black poppies are only recently hitting the spotlight. In 2010, Selena Carty launched The BlackPoppyRose project as symbol for all of "the contributions made by the African/Black/West Indian/Pacific Islands & Indigenous communities to various wars since the 16th century."
History is dominated by the white Eurocentric narratives of war, and so black poppies are now being used to serve as a reminder for the multitudes of unrecognized, marginalized races who fought and died alongside so many others.
Purple Poppy Meanings
If you're an animal lover, you'll be touched to know that purple poppies share a meaning close to their red sibling's. According to New Zealand's National Army Museum, the purple poppy "symbolizes all animals who have served and/or died during conflict." And New Zealand celebrates a Purple Poppy Day on February 24th every year. There's much debate over who first instigated this new meaning and when it started, but many countries around the world have adopted it.
Blue Poppy Meanings
Unlike red, white, black, and purple poppies, blue poppies don't currently honor any losses related to war. Rather, their most recent meaning stretches back to the Victorian flower language. Blue poppies are said to represent imagination and higher thinking. And because they're rare to find in the wild, they're all the more special of a flower you can gift to loved one.
Orange Poppy Meanings
California poppies aren't the only orange poppies you can find, but they are the only poppy to make a state flower list. According to California's Department of Fish and Wildlife's website, it's believed that these golden flowers are "viewed as a floral representation of the 'fields of gold' sought during the gold rush." No matter their historic significance, these cheery flowers instill a sense of joy and exuberance in anyone who sees them.
Poppy Colors Help the World Remember
There's no beauty in death and destruction, but the different poppy colors can be used to honor and remember the sacrifices made in war without sensationalizing them. Despite their renowned status, these quaint plants are super easy to grow and just as easy to gift.