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Poppy: The Legacy of the Rose & the Flower

by Suzanne M. Horn, Master Rosarian, Pacific Rose Society

This article was first published in the Pacific Rose and is a 2018 Award of Merit winner.

‘Poppy’ is a beautiful, bright orange/red single miniflora, named for its resemblance and association with poppies flowering in the spring of 1915 on the battlefields of Belgium, France and Gallipoli. As such, it bears quite a legacy and quite a background story. This rose was originally hybridized in Denmark by Olaf Soenderhousen and was introduced by Hoersholm/Horsholm Nursery in 1960 as a floribunda. However, ‘Poppy’ was reclassified as a miniflora by the American Rose Society Classification Committee in 2013.

The poppy itself became synonymous with great loss of life in war after Major John McCrae, a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, penned the poignant poem, “In Flanders Fields”. As the story goes, on May 2, 1915 during World War I in the Ypres Salient, the area around Ypres in Belgium, a good friend of Major McCrae’s, a young Canadian artillery officer named Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by an exploding German artillery shell. Since the chaplain had been called away to another location at the time, Major McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for his friend.

Later in the evening after the burial, John McCrae began to write his now famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”, while sitting on the back of an ambulance and gazing out at fields of wild poppies growing in a nearby cemetery near the battlefield in Ypres. Interestingly, Major McCrae did not keep the poem but rather threw it away. Fortunately, it was found by another officer, who mailed it to newspapers in England. It was subsequently published on December 8, 2015 by Punch, and it has gone on to become one of the most unforgettable, haunting poems of war.

The poem went as follows:

“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.”

This poem was the inspiration for the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. Because of Lt. Colonel McCrae’s poem, the poppy has become the symbol of World War I, in which 30 million lives were lost. The connection of the poppy to honor those who have died in war has been expanded to help the living. Two women were inspired to promote it as a memorial flower to raise funds to support those in need of help, most especially servicemen and civilians suffering from physical and mental hardship as a result of war.

Now we come to its connection with roses. A hybrid moschata rose named the ‘Poppy Rose’ was named to commemorate the start of four year-long memorial services at the Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. The ‘Poppy Rose’ also went on to be used for the benefit of a Belgian non-profit organization called APOPO. This translates in English to the Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development, which saves countless lives every year.

‘Poppy’ the miniflora rose, which bears a striking resemblance to the hybrid moschata ‘Poppy Rose’, has recently growing in popularity with both home gardeners and exhibitors alike. Its bright orange-red single blooms are reminiscent of the flowers of the California Poppy that was named the California State Flower in 1890. See the above photo of me enjoying a day in a field of poppy flowers in the spring.

‘Poppy’ the miniflora is a cross of two floribundas, ‘Cocorico’ × ‘Geranium Red’. The lovely, scalloped blooms of about two inches in width feature bright yellow, lightly fragrant stamens and appear as one bloom per stem or in large sprays. By way of growth habit, the plants are vigorous and floriferous but are relatively short growers, reaching up to three feet tall.

For the exhibitors among us, I have noted an increased presence of ‘Poppy’ on the trophy tables, particularly in the miniflora spray category. Attached are photos of winning entries by Kitty Belendez at the Santa Clarita Rose Society Show and Desert Rose Society Show in 2016 and Bob Martin’s winning entry at the Pacific Rose Society Show in 2014. I encourage all rosarians to grow this sweet rose that is reminiscent of so much history and the poppy that inspired it. ‘Poppy’ would be a wonderful addition to a “Never Forget” garden to honor those who sacrificed so much. Many thanks to Kathy Strong, Kitty Belendez, Dona Martin and Peter Alonso for the lovely photos in this story.

Photo credits in order of appearance:

1) Poppy - photo by Kathy Strong

2) Poppy - Miniflora Spray - photo by Dona Martin, shown by Kitty Belendez

3) Suzanne Horn in the Poppy Fields, photographer unknown

4) Poppy Bloom - photo by Peter Alonso

5) Poppy Stamens - photo by Kathy Strong

6) Poppy in the garden - photo by Kathy Strong

7) Poppy Bloom - photo by Cliff Orent

8) Poppy Spray - photo & shown by Kitty Belendez


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