Across Europe, fields of red poppies bloom in summer. It's a breathtaking sight but these common, beautiful weeds have also held deep meaning throughout human history.
The fields of Northern France are awash with the bright red of corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) in June. This flower is a common weed in Europe but other varieties are cultivated as ornamental flowers, as well as a source of food or drugs around the world. The opium poppy, for instance, is used in the production of dried latex and opium, from which opiates such as heroin, morphine and codeine are derived.
Humans have long held poppies as symbols of sleep, peace and death because of their sedative properties and the blood-red color of the red poppy. In Greek and Roman mythology, they are used to honor the dead. The Papaver rhoeas became a symbol of wartime remembrance during World War 1 after Canadian doctor Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of them to write "In Flanders Fields" in tribute to a friend who died in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium.
Still, in spite of their association with remembrance and death, happening upon a field of red poppies in summer is nonetheless breathtaking.
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