Seven things you probably didn't know about poppies

Flanders poppy (Thomas Quine / flickr / CC BY 2.0)

TORONTO -- You may know that “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lieut.-Col. John McCrae was written in 1915 after a funeral for another soldier, his close friend Alexis Helmer, at a cemetery in Ypres, where the poppies grew.  But CTV's science expert Dan Riskin has rounded up seven lesser known facts about the flowering plant that's long been used as a symbol of peace.

1.

There are more than 70 kinds of poppies. The one in Flanders Fields is called “common poppy” (Papaver rhoeas), also known as “corn poppy” or even “Flanders poppy.” It is different from the kind of poppy that produces opioids, called the “opium poppy” (Papaver somniferum).


2.

Poppy seeds lie dormant until the ground is tilled. When you till the soil to plant, say, corn, poppies often come up too (hence the common name corn poppy). In the First World War, when soldiers dug trenches, that made poppies come up, too. Presumably the digging of graves in Flanders Fields did the same.


3.

The poppy seeds in your bagel are mostly cultivated from the opium poppy. That’s why poppy seeds are banned in several countries, including China -- the worry is that they’ll be used to grow drugs.


4.

Around half of all legally grown poppies (for medicine) are grown in Tasmania.


5.

The 25-cent coin with the red poppy released by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2004 was the first circulated coin in the world to have colour.


6.

All commercially available morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone come from plants. They are not made synthetically. Unfortunately, the cure for overdoses, naloxone, also has to come from plants. Researchers at the University of Calgary are trying to change that, by putting the genes to make those chemicals into brewer’s yeast. That would make naloxone cheap and plentiful.


7.

Poppies have been used by humans for thousands of years as traditional medicine. The remains of Neolithic humans in the Alps have been found with a pouch containing wheat, barley, and poppy. All poppies produce compounds that can have medicinal effects. Even the Flanders poppy makes a compound called rhoeadine that has effects on people, but it’s very mild compared to opium.

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