During World War I corn poppies bloomed in waste grounds of much of the Western front, where they provided a vivid reminder of the bloody battles that had so recently taken place there. The corn poppy is immortalized in the poem In Flanders Fields by Canadian poet and soldier LCol John McCrae. Similarly, it is a symbol of the blood of Polish soldiers killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino in the Polish war song Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino (Red Poppies on Monte Cassino).
The corn poppy has become a cultural icon to military veterans, especially veterans of World War I, and has become associated with wartime remembrance, especially during Remembrance Day or Anzac Day in Commonwealth countries. In Canada, where the corn poppy is largely associated with Remembrance Day, the Canadian Mint in 2004 released into circulation a quarter with a commemorative reverse featuring a corn poppy colored red.
This poppy is a common weed in Europe and is found in many locations, including Flanders Fields. Canadian surgeon and soldier, John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields on May 3, 1915, after witnessing the death of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer. The opening line of the poem vividly depicts corn poppies blowing in the wind amongst the many crosses that mark the resting places of fallen soldiers.
Inspired by McCrae's poem, in 1915 US professor Moina Michael published a poem of her own called We Shall Keep the Faith. In tribute to the opening lines of McCrae's poem -- In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row, -- Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.
Corn poppies are not successful as cut flowers because their petals fall off very quickly, thus artificial corn poppies are used. In many Commonwealth countries, paper or plastic corn poppy flowers are worn to commemorate the sacrifice of veterans and civilians in World War I and other wars, during the weeks preceding Remembrance Day on November 11. In the United States, it is common practice to wear "Buddy Poppies" (artificial, paper or plastic versions distributed by the Veterans of Foreign War) during the weeks preceding Memorial Day, the last Monday in May to commemorate the sacrifice of veterans in the various wars; whereas Veterans Day on November 11 is used to honor "living" veterans.
In Canada, poppies are distributed by the Royal Canadian Legion and the Anavets organization each fall prior to Remembrance Day. The design of the Canadian poppy consists of petals made of red plastic with a felt lining and black centre held on by a pin. In 1980, the Royal Canadian Legion formed a committee to decide the future of the poppy and it was decided that the centre should be changed to green to represent the green fields of France. This proved unpopular with the Legion membership and the design was changed back in 1986. Unfortunately a large quantity of green felt had already been purchased and it was decided to keep producing the green centres until the supply of felt was exhausted. It took until 2002 for the green felt to run out and the traditional black centres reappeared. Those who were unaware or had forgotten that black centres had been used in the design of the poppy from its introduction in 1921 until 1980 found the change somewhat controversial.
In New Zealand and Australia, plastic poppies are widely distributed by the Returned Services Association leading up to ANZAC day (April 25).
See also: Flowers Sydney, Flowers Melbourne, Gifts Australia