Today is Remembrance Day, and many of us are wearing a poppy to remember all those who sacrificed so much. There’s a lot to know about the little flower, however, and in this edition of This Week in Science CTV Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin joined us to discuss five things you didn’t know about the poppy.
Check them out below, and click on the video above for more from Dan!
KINDS OF POPPIES
There are more than 70 kinds of poppies, most of which grow in the Northern Hermisphere. Some grow in the Arctic Circle, and one species in southern Africa. Poppies are a spring/summer flower in Canada (so we couldn’t source a real one). No one should wear anything but red poppies for Remembrance Day.
The poppy seeds in your bagel are mostly cultivated from the same kind of poppy that produces opium (Papaver somniferum). That’s why Poppy seeds are banned in China, Taiwan, and Singapore for their potential to be grown into opium-producing plants. Opium comes from the latex wax that comes out of poppies when you cut the unripe seed pod, and can be converted into heroin or morphene. People have cultivated poppies for their seeds since as early as 2700 BCE.
MEDICINAL USE OF POPPIES
All commercially available morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone come from poppies. They are not made synthetically. Unfortunately, the cure for overdoses, noloxone, 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, which would make noloxone cheap and plentiful, along with the medicines.
Poppies have been used by humans for thousands of years as traditional medicine, with neolithic humans in the alps have been found with a pouch containing wheat, barley, and poppy. All poppies produce compounds called alkaloids that can have medicinal effects (but only opium poppies make opium).
The 2004 Canadian Quarter with the red poppy in it was the first circulated coin in the world to have colour. 2004 was the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI.
POPPIES IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Despite the Canadian origin, poppies symbolize remembrance in 53 commonwealth countries, and several non-commonwealth ones like France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.