The Poppy – remembrance and symbolism of things past

As humans, we’ve been creating symbolism with flowers and plants since time immemorial.

Flowers can convey messages that we can’t always speak. They represent every sentiment one could think of, and as a floral designer, I’ve always been fascinated by this partnership between humans and the language of flowers.

With Remembrance Day upon us, I began to consider our link to the Poppy.

It ended up that I dug quite a bit further back in history than World War I & II.

I discovered an enormous amount of interesting information about the evolution of the poppy, and how it’s played a part in tandem with humanity over the centuries.

Probably the best known Poppy is the Papaver somniferum, which is the opium Poppy. It was domesticated by indigenous people from Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC.  It’s believed that the use of opium may have originated with the ancient Sumerian people.

Papaver somniferum L. is one of the oldest cultivated plants with the hypothesis that this particular poppy is derived from the species Papaver setigerum, which grows wild along the Mediterranean region.

Western Asia is also considered the center of poppy’s origin. The oldest documented traces of poppies in Europe come from the Neolithic period, as evidenced by poppy seeds found in the Alps.

The ancient Egyptians of the eighteenth dynasty created containers made in the shape of poppies. These Juglets as they’re called, have been found with trace amounts of opium still inside.  The flower also appears on jewelry and other art objects from that era, and opium seemed to offer a ritual significance as its use was generally restricted to priests.

Poppies and opium then made their way around the known world via the Silk Road. In Turkey, the poppy has been a traditional plant since 3,000 BC, and the city Afyon in central Anatolia (Turkey) was named after them. “Afyon” in Turkish means “opium.”

The Wizard of Oz – Chapter 8

According to L. Frank Baum, (who we all know as the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Poppies were mentioned in Greco-Roman myths as offerings to the dead.

The origin of the Poppy (Papaver) was attributed by the ancient Greeks to Ceres, who, despairing of regaining her daughter Proserpine, carried off by Pluto, created the Poppy in order that by ingesting it she might obtain sleep, and thus forget her grief.

The ancients considered the Papaver Rhæa, or Corn-Rose, so necessary for the prosperity of their Corn, that the seeds of this Poppy were offered up in the sacred rites of Ceres, (aka Demeter) whose garland was formed with Barley or bearded Wheat interwoven with Poppies.

Demeter rejoiced, for her daughter was by her side. Illustration by Walter Crane – (1914) – Public Domain

Ceres/Demeter is sometimes depicted holding Poppies in her hand. The quieting effects of the Poppy, which were well known to the Greeks, probably led them to represent the deities Hypnos (Sleep), Thanatos (Death), and Nyx (Night), either as crowned with Poppies, or holding Poppies in their hands.

A Minoan goddess represented as a terracotta figurine was discovered by archaeologists. With raised hands and seeds of opium poppies on her head, this female figure, known popularly as the poppy goddess, is thought to be a representation as the bringer of sleep or death.

Greek youths and maidens proved sincerity to their lovers by placing a petal or flower-leaf of the Poppy in one hand, which, on being struck with the other hand, was broken with a sharp sound, which denoted true attachment. If it failed to snap, that meant unfaithfulness. This superstition passed to Rome, and is still practiced in modern Italy and Switzerland.

Currently, many poppy seeds come to market from the European Union, and plantations are also located in China and Australia. In Slavic countries, the poppy seed is a traditional culinary delicacy.

In any case, there seems to be a relationship between Poppies and conflict.

The field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, on which the remembrance poppy is based, has long been associated with armies fighting in Europe.

The flowers often overgrew the mass graves left by battles, and this has been documented, at least back to a 1693 battle in the Netherlands between the French and English, as well as the battle of Waterloo, and of course WWI, where the enormous artillery bombardments completely disrupted the landscape. This destruction infused chalk soils with lime, and the Poppy thrives in that environment where their vivid colour can’t be missed in contrast to the surrounding disfigured terrain.

In closing, the themes for the poppy across the centuries, are for the most part nods to the underworld, sleep, funeral rites, and death, which seems like an appropriate symbol for all of the people who’ve died fighting wars.



Grow note

Poppy seeds like the cool of early spring or autumn to be planted.
They don’t like to be transplanted due to their rather long taproot. If you must move a Poppy, make sure to get as much soil around them as possible. Otherwise, it dries out in no time and you’re left with a dead plant. I say this from personal experience. : (
They sure are showy once they’re established. A real treasure in the garden!

Field of red poppies – S. Shelton, Postcard, ca 1903 Public Domain

 

Forest Bathing – Mindful Meandering in Nature

Have you heard of ‘Forest Bathing’?

Forest bathing is a holistic practice focusing on our ecological health. It aligns with our fundamental need as sentient beings to interact with nature.

While studying the benefits of Biophilic design a few years ago, along with vertical gardens and terrariums, I discovered this delightful concept.

Forest bathing is an activity that can reduce anxiety, depression, and boost the immune system.

It doesn’t matter whether this is done during a ten minute break at work, or when a whole day is spent roaming through a provincial park. The simple act of observing nature offers positive mental and physical benefits to our wellbeing.

Being fortunate as I am, residing in a place surrounded by forests, my experience with this concept is not unlike that of a sponge – best served soaking up all of the goodness nature offers for free.

Originating in Japan during the 1980’s, and known there as ‘Shinrin-yoku’, the translation means either, “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing”. Already cornerstone of preventive health care in Japanese medicine, it’s becoming known to health practitioners here in North America, too. They are beginning to see the practical use of forest bathing as a prescription for healing, helping patients by connecting them back to nature.

Akin to the practices of horticultural, animal, and art therapies, forest bathing is a sensory-based activity. In partnership with mindfulness and a green-space, it’s a tool to help us connect with the natural world. By slowing down even just for a while, we focus our attention on the beauty around us.

If only temporarily, forest bathing removes the daily distractions and stress caused by our manufactured schedules and hectic lives. Studies have shown that the aroma from certain trees in a forest has healing powers.

Forest therapy has a lasting effect on our wellbeing, lingering long after that walk in the woods.

Usually, a session entails a quiet, slow-paced walk. A group of people mindfully meander, immersed in the forest, engaging with nature, using all five of their senses.

This tempered walk is not the same as hiking. The goal is not about breaking a sweat, or hurriedly trudging on towards a specific destination.

Besides, who knows what one might come across whilst contemplating the trees and the forest? 🙂

In conclusion, I’m currently immersed in learning how to be a forest guide. I’ll be offering a forest bathing session in Haliburton Ontario this spring.

For more information, or ff you would like to sign up for this forest therapy session, (held on Saturday, May 25th, 2019), please RSVP on Facebook – event listed -> HERE (Or) at our Eventbrite listing.

Thank you!

Forest bathing links:

Questions? Please feel free to get in touch through the contact form below. Thank you!

The Red Fox – A fabulous forest-lurker, neighbour, and totem animal.

Fox hunting for voles and mice.

Our backyard is a special place because of the abundance of wildlife in our neck of the woods. I am extremely fortunate to witness a diversity of animal/bird species who wander through on a regular basis.

One of my favourite visitors is the lovely Red Fox, (Vulpes vulpes).

These solitary hunters are intelligent, opportunistic omnivores, about the size of a small to mid-sized dog, and they rather remind me of a cat because of the way they play with their food, tossing the soon to be meal, (voles & other rodents) in the air with abandon, just before ending this celebration to seriously chow down on their catch.

Like many of us humans, the red fox prefers a diverse habitat! For them, that includes farm fields, forests, the edge of thickets, and even urban settings, where like the racoon they also thrive. From my experience in a rural setting, they hunt in and out of these habitats, which describes our backyard, and is likely why I see them so often.

The adult red fox has a year-round coat of red that is absolutely striking to see in the winter, as you can see it here in contrast with snow.

Yes, there are some people who find satisfaction by wearing these beauties on their own backs. I’m not one of them and prefer to see the animal alive and well, in its own coat. Luckily, I don’t yet carry tomatoes & won’t pelt, (pardon the pun) fur wearing folk. However, I will offer an unequivical icy glare and judge you in a negative light. But, I digress…

Fox with mange.

Foxes are shy animals. They’re mainly nocturnal, but occasionally one will see these non-aggressive creatures during the day. If you see a fox during the day, it doesn’t mean that they are diseased with rabies or mange, though that can be the case. It more likely it means food may be more available for them during daylight hours in their respective environment.

If you’re interested in animal lore and totem animals like I am, there is a phenomenal amount of information available, making the fox an interesting subject to read about in many folkloric and mythic tales.

Consider the term “to outfox“, which means “to beat in a competition of wits”, similarly to “outguess”, “outsmart”, and “outwit”.  If you consider Aesop’s Fables from classical antiquity to Beatrix Potter‘s anthropomorpic stories, there are numerous stories involving a fox in popular culture throughout history.

Fox focus

Within the spiritual realm, they’re considered figures of cunning or trickery, or as a familiar animal possessed of magic powers and transformation.

As for having the lovely fox as a totem animal, it suits me well.

According to many who’ve interpreted the fox as a totem animal messanger, a fox will communicate its presence in order to offer the advice that you should think outside of the box. They also show us how to focus on our goals, and to use our creativity in our approach to current circumstances.

My feeling is that the fox encourages us to be aware of our own habits, (good or bad), adapt to our environment using all of our resources, and that we should refrain from certain distractions that may lead us off course when we want to realize a goal.

In any case, the Red Fox is a wonderful creature and participant in the planet’s food chain. They’re an animal that deserves our respect, and it is a real gift to see them in nature.