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Why the poppy symbolizes both the devastation of war and the promise of peace

“In Flanders Fields” was written by poet and soldier John McCrae, who was born in Ontario. He noticed the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was one of the first flowers blooming in and around the crosses marking the graves of soldiers after the 1915 battle in Belgium’s Ypres Salient. This phenomenon was noticed across the battlefields of Europe in the wake of the terrible loss of life and environmental devastation of the First World War.

In a November 2020 story in CBC News’ What on Earth? newsletter, Meneka Raman-Wilms asks why — of all plants — “were poppies the first to grow there? And why did they grow in such abundance?”

Raman-Wilms reached out to Egan Davis for answers. Davis is the principal instructor for the horticultural training program at the University of British Columbia’s Botanical Garden.

“A poppy is one of those pioneer, ruderal plants,” explains Davis. “Their role is basically to patch a site after a major disturbance.” Davis explains that seeds from these pioneer plants, like fireweed in Canada, are waiting in the soil to respond to a disturbance that removes most trees and vegetation, like a forest fire, flood, or human activity.

“I can’t imagine anything more disturbing to the earth and to human society than war,” Davis says. “But when poppies germinate after the war, that’s a sign of promise.”

Hence the red poppy is a symbol that helps us remember both the devastation of war and the promise of peace.

Read the complete article at

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