corn poppies

Scientific Name: Papaver rhoeas L.
Papaver rhoeas L. was named by Swedish botanist Carl von Linne, also known as "Linneaus," who replaced polynomial classifications with binomial names, which are comprised of the genus and the species. Papaver, known in Latin as "pappa," means food or milk, and rhoeas in Greek means the color red. The L. following the genus (Papaver) and the species (rhoeas) stands for Linneaus, the man who named the corn poppy. (6)

Plant Description
The corn poppy has numerous names, including the corn rose, field poppy and shirley poppy. Corn poppies are depicted with brilliantly saturated red petals and blackened bases found in meadows, waste fields and roadsides. The juxtaposition of the brightly colored flowers and the monochrome green grasses they are often engulfed in, renders a beautiful backdrop. The flowers' scent is reminiscent of that of opium, although when dried, corn poppies typically become odorless. The petal's range in size and shape from circular to globular and in intensity from faint shades of red to scarlet. Corn poppies tend to have 4-6 petals, all of which are smooth and satiny to the touch. The stems have prickly hairs, called hispid, and hold a yellow, white milky sap within. Corn poppies are grown best in cultivated or plowed soil and are suspected to have evolved during the time the concept of agriculture was introduced. The corn poppy is often regarded as a weed, but provides practical purposes for human beings as well. The red petals provide a syrup, the seeds can be used as ingredients in recipes and in a cultural facet, the entire flower symbolizes wartime remembrance.

Whole Flower

Blackened bottom

Pistil and Stamen

The stamens, or male parts, reside in the center as a reddish color. The filaments run along the border and are depicted as long and black with purple bases. The anthers, which bear the pollen, reside at the tips of the filaments and are yellow-green in color. The stigma, or female parts, is a disk with 8-12 rays. (11) The ovary remains within the fruit and the carpels lie in a circular formation around the center. (7)

The leaves of corn poppies are serrate and hispid. Alternate leaves can been seen below and sessile leaves can be seen above. (8)


Sap from stem

Medicinal Effects
The corn poppy holds a degree of alkaloids within its oblong capsule, which makes it poisonous to horses, cattle and sheep. Traces of morphine have been suspected to reside within the stem's milky sap and is referred to as an opiate alkaloid, which provides a slight narcotic effect. The alkaloid rhoeadine can be found in the corn poppy's flower and acts as a mild sedative, usually used for curing headaches, toothaches, earaches and neuralgia. The petals can also aid with digestive problems and persistent coughs. The deep scarlet color represents a presence of Rhoeadic and Papaveric acids, which is unlikely to harm human beings even when consumed in mass quantities. (6, 13)

Domestication of Papaver rhoeas L.
The petals of corn poppies are sometimes used to make a syrups and dyes, which are collected by farmers, who deliver collections of brightly colored petals in muslin bags to manufacturers. The process of transporting the delicate petals is a tedious one, as the petals are very delicate and require extra care. The corn poppy petals are usually used to dye medicines and wines and the dried petals are used for ornamental purposes.
Corn poppy seeds often act as an ingredient to traditional breads and cakes in Europe, and are regarded as a sophisticated substitute in making olive oil. The remaining leaves of the corn poppy are sometimes tossed in with the petal syrup to soups and gruels, for additional flavor. (13)


Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas L.) Classification
The Papaveraceae Family

The corn poppy falls under the Papaveraceae family, which typically occurs in temperate climates. The corn poppy's growth habit lies within the forb and herb category, which is comprised of solely vascular plants composed of woody-free tissue. The Federal Geographic Data Committee's (FGDC) outlines the forb and herb growth habit to include graminoids, forbs and ferns. Forb and herbs tend to be annual, biennial or perennial plants, which lack the thickening component characteristic of woody tissue. The absent woody growth present in the secondary stage of growth affects the perennating buds of forb and herbs to develop at or below the earth's surface. (8)

//Plantae// – Plants
//Tracheobionta// – Vascular plants
//Spermatophyta// – Seed plants
//Magnoliophyta// – Flowering plants
//Magnoliopsida// – Dicotyledons
//Papaveraceae// – Poppy family
//Papaver// L. – poppy
//Papaver// //rhoeas// L. – corn poppy
Following down the ladder of classification, from kingdom to species, one begins with the widest and ends with the narrowest distinction of a plant. The first and largest group is the Kingdom, that includes one subgroup, known as the Tracheobionta, which is composed of vascular plants and four divisions, Anthocerotophyta, hornworts, Bryophyta, mosses, Chlorophyta, green algae, and Hepaticophyta, liverworts. As the corn poppy is a vascular plant, it would fall into the subkingdom or Tracheobionta.
Poppies at Duchy of Cornwall's Home Farm

Related Plants within the Papaveraceae Family.
Genera for the Family= Papaveraceae
(19 genera are present)
Here are some examples:
  • Argemone L. (pricklypoppy) ARGEM
  • Dendromecon Benth. (tree poppy) DENDR
  • Meconella Nutt. (fairypoppy) MECON
  • Platystigma Benth. (queen poppy) PLATY8
  • Stylomecon G. Taylor (windpoppy) STYLO5

Argemone mexicana L. (Mexican pricklypoppy)
Known more commonly as the Mexican pricklypoppy, this relative of the corn poppy, resides in the family of Papaveraceae and is native to the West Indes and Central America. Mexican pricklypoppys bloom from June to August and like the corn poppy, are often found in rocky landscapes, waste sites and roadsides. The Argemone mexicana L. also contains sanguinarine, berberine, and protopine alkaloids. (12)

Mexican pricklypoppy

Papaver somniferum L. (Opium poppy)
The opium poppy is another relative to the corn poppy, although unlike the former, the latter contains poisonous alkaloids. The opium poppy can be traced back to Western Asia and Western Mediterranean origins. Unlike the corn poppy and the Mexican pricklypoppy, the opium poppy prefers well cultivated soil. Papaver somniferum L. is most often sought after for the narcotic and medicinal properties characteristic of the plant's seeds. (13)

Opium poppy

Human Use and Domestication
Many Americans associate corn poppies with World War I and Veteran's Day as they refer to them as "Flanders Field Poppies." The scarlet red poppies symbolize remembrance and honor those who have fallen in the battlefield serving our country. During the bleak and empty days of WWI trench warfare, soldiers felt uplifted and hopeful as they caught a glimpse of the luminous red petals of the corn poppies that spontaneously inhabited the desolate fields of Europe. Ironically, the corn poppies subsisted in fields where most of the fighting took place and their saturated red petals reflected the countless amount of blood that had been shed. Though, these flowers provided a glimmer of life and hope, which motivated and inspired many soldiers to go on. After John McRae composed the acclaimed poem, "In Flanders Fields," a corn poppy phenomena erupted. In New York City, a YMCA volunteer named Moina Michael initiated the tradition of wearing corn poppies on Veteran's Day, to support and remember our fallen heroes. In selling the poppies to people on the street, Michael was able to donate her profits to servicemen in need. (14)

"In Flander's Fields"
By John McRae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields


Major John McRae was a Canadian artillery commander and military doctor who served for the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery during the Second Battle of Ypres, the major attack of German forces on the Western Front. His comrade and friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed in May of 1915 from a nearby German shell, which ripped him to pieces. Major McRae conducted Helmer's burial ceremony later that evening in the stead of the absent chaplain, where he became inspired to write "In Flanders Fields." There are three different accounts on why and how McRae came to have written such a beautiful poem. Some recall McRae sitting at the back of an ambulance a day after the incident, where he received an awakening as he observed the brightly decorated red corn poppy fields. Another account claims that after Helmer's death McRae was overwhelmed with heartache and wrote the poem within 20 minute span in order regain concentration. The third account attributes McRae's poem as a tool to pass time between posts. (3, 14)

Major John McRae

Corn poppy Distribution
The corn poppy is a native to southern Europe and was introduced to the lower 48 states of the United States, Alaska, Canada and Asia. It is an annual plant, meaning that it completes its growing cycle within a year's time, and emerges once a year between the months of May and October. The corn poppy prefers a temperate climate, and as a result is prevalent today in a majority of Eurasia and North America. Pollination of corn poppies occurs either through insects or by the wind. Corn poppy seeds often lay dormant, which allows the plant to survive through the harsh conditions of nature. Corn poppies are tough plants, who are capable of flowering amid waste sites, roadsides and weeds. (1, 13)


Worldwide corn poppy distribution (7)

Corn Poppy Symbolism
The corn poppy often represents sleep and death due to its sedative attribute and association with bloodshed in World War I battlefields. The scarlet red the petals, which appear spontaneously on roadsides and in the midst of overgrown weeds also provide a glimmer of hope, as they appear to have overcome nature's harsh conditions in order to spread beauty in some of the most desolate landscapes. (11)

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is a Dutch painter who produced over 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings in his ten year career, which spanned from 1880 to 1890. He pursued 19th century art and concentrated on landscapes and figure drawing. Van Gogh combined the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist techniques he observed in Paris to form his own style. Anticipating a mental breakdown, Van Gogh check himself into a mental asylum near Saint-Remy in May of 1889. During his stay at Saint-Remy, Van Gogh captured the surrounding landscapes, which were full of wheat fields, cypresses and poppy fields. (15)

"Wheat Field with Cypresses" (1889)
It is said that Vincent van Gogh painted "Wheat Field with Cypresses" while in Saint-Remy asylum as he wrote numerous letters to his main support system, his brother Theo. As a favorite landscape of Van Gogh's, he rendered three variations of "Wheat Field with Cypresses," and this one in particular on July 2nd, 1889. He wrote, "I have a canvas of cypresses with a few ears of
wheat, poppies, a blue sky, which is like a multicolored Scotch [plaid] and impasted like Monticellis." "Wheat Field and Cypresses" was illustrated during the last two years of Van Gogh's life, which art historians describe as unlike his typical Impressionist style. The energetic brush strokes and vibrant bursts of color represent an intensity of emotion within Van Gogh. The corn poppies can be spotted towards the bottom of the canvas amidst the wheat fields and green pastures. This work preludes Van Gogh's suicide, which took place in the wheat fields surrounding Saint-Remy. He he shot himself in the country side, the sedative property and blood red color of the corn poppies ironically reflect the eternal sleep, Van Gogh chose to enter. (16)


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