Poppy Flower Meanings & Symbolism + Mythology & Folklore

Poppy Meaning and Symbolism

Poppy flower meanings include sleep, dreams, imagination, sacrifice, remembrance, regeneration, and luxury. There are 120 species of poppies, and they have a nearly global range, from the icy tundra to the blazing desert. Hence, the poppy appears as a symbol in the cultural mythologies of people around the world. In this post, you’ll learn about commonly shared poppy symbols, including color meanings. In addition, you’ll learn about the poppy as a symbol in art and literature as well as its spiritual connotations.

What does the poppy symbolize?

Here are some commonly shared meanings applied to poppies, with details on each below:

  • Sleep
  • Dreams
  • Imagination
  • Sacrifice
  • Remembrance
  • Regeneration
  • Luxury

Detailed Poppy Symbols and Meanings

Sleep

The poppy is known for its soporific effects. After all, it’s the flower that is famously (or infamously) known as the natural source of opiates, including opium, morphine, and heroin. Yet even before it was engineered to produce dangerously potent drugs, the poppy was known as a natural sleep-inducer for centuries. In fact, the drug morphine, which is derived from poppies, is named for the Greek god of dreams and sleep, Morpheus.

In his famous poem, “To Sleep,” John Keats referenced poppies as a way to help him escape that which plagued his conscience:

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities…

In addition to being symbols of restful sleep, the poppy is also a symbol for eternal sleep, or death. Poppies are often etched in tombstones with the words, “Rest in Peace.”

Dreams

Just as they are symbols of slumber, poppies also symbolize dreaming. Seeing poppies can be a reminder to pay attention to your dreams, as they may have important messages for you.

Imagination

As the poppy has the power to change your state of consciousness, it is also a symbol of imagination. Too often, as adults, we get caught up in the realities of life management and getting through the day. The poppy is a reminder to that imagination is the key to making life more wonderful.

Sacrifice

Poppies are also associated with sacrifice. In Christianity, the red of the poppy symbolizes the blood of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.

In addition, poppies are associated with the fallen from World Wars I and II and the ultimate sacrifice they made to protect a way of life.

Remembrance

Flanders Fields Poppy Memorial
Memorial at the McCrae House National Historic Site of Canada. Photo: Richard B. H.

As they are symbols of sacrifice, poppy meaning also includes remembrance for those who have passed.

The tradition of placing poppies on the graves of soldiers who died in World Wars I and II started with the poet John McCrae’s poemIn Flanders Fields. During World War I, Flanders, Belgium was the sight of brutal trench warfare where many soldiers died.

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.

However, long before World War I, the Roman poet Virgil used poppies as a metaphor to describe fallen warriors in his epic tale the Aeneid, written around 25 BC:

He was still speaking as the sword was driven through the ribs of Euryalus, full force, shattering his white breast. He rolled on the ground in death, the blood flowed over his beautiful body, his neck grew limp and the head drooped on his shoulders, like a scarlet flower languishing and dying when its stem has been cut by the plough, or like poppies bowing their heads when the rain burdens them and their necks grow weary.

So, while poppies are associated with death, they are more importantly associated with honoring and remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for a greater good.

Regeneration

Orange Poppy Flowers

As they are symbols of sleep and even death, poppies are also symbols of regeneration. These resilient flowers can grow in challenging locations and in depleted soil. Because of this they are used in farming when crop rotation is needed. In addition, legend has it that poppies grew in former battlefields in places where soldiers died.

The ancient Greeks associated poppies with Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and the harvest. In addition, they associated poppies with Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, the goddess of the underworld and spring growth.

In Christianity, the poppy symbolizes not only the blood of Christ, but his resurrection and ascent to Heaven.

So, while poppies have been associated with death throughout history, they also symbolize regeneration and eternal life.

Luxury

In addition to its heavier connotations, they poppy flower is also a symbol of luxury and even decadence. You can imagine an opium den where people are lounging on pillows and falling into a stupor. It is intriguing that the poppy is at once associated with the harshness of war and at the same time with avoidance and hedonism.

Poppy Color Meanings

Red Poppy Flowers

Poppies come in a range of hues, from blood red to yellow, blue, and even black and white. Here are the symbolic meanings associated with poppy colors:

Red Poppy Meaning

Red poppies symbolize undying love, remembrance, and sacrifice. They are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers in remembrance. And they are also associated with the blood of Christ. However, in Asian countries, red poppies symbolize success and good fortune, as well as romantic love.

Pink Poppies

Pink poppy meaning includes compassion, platonic love, and restful sleep.

Orange Poppy Meaning

Orange poppy flowers symbolize health and regeneration.

Yellow Poppies

Yellow Poppy

With their joyful color, yellow poppies symbolize renewal, optimism, and looking at the bright side of situations.

Yellow poppies can be planted or used in memorials as a way to honor loved ones who have passed and to acknowledge that you will focus on the positive memories from their time on Earth.

White Poppy Meaning

Symbols of remembrance for loved ones who have passed, white poppies are also associated with faith and the eternal life of the soul.

White is the color of innocence and purity, so white poppies are also symbols of restful sleep, pleasant dreams, and renewal.

Blue Poppies

Blue Poppy

Blue poppies are rare; however, you can find them growing naturally in the Himalayas. A blue poppy symbolizes faith in a higher spiritual power. In addition, they symbolize messages from angels, especially related to creative pursuits that require imagination.

Purple Poppy Meaning

Purple Poppy

Purple poppy meaning includes imagination, peacefulness, and luxury. The purple poppy is a helpful symbol when you want to connect with your artistic muse and create something beautiful.

The color purple is a way of paying tribute to and honoring another, so purple poppies make lovely gifts for people whom you care for and respect.

Black Poppy Meaning

The Papaver somniferum paeoniflorum poppy comes in some shades that are so dark they are almost black. Black poppy meanings include elegance, deep sleep, and mysterious dreams.

Poppy Flower Spiritual Meaning

Whit Poppies

As they are symbols of sleep and regeneration, on a spiritual level, poppies symbolize the eternal life of the soul, including reincarnation. They remind us that death of the physical body on Earth is just a step in the evolution of the soul. While our bodies are merely shells, our souls are eternal.

Associated Spirit Animals

Bee and Poppy Flowers

The poppy flower shares traits and symbiosis with certain wild animals and insects. For instance, bees get nourishment from poppies as they pollinate them. And birds, such as sparrows and cockatoos, eat poppy seeds and then help to spread them so more poppies grow.

On a spiritual level, the poppy shares symbolism with the snake, deer, and caribou spirit animals as all are symbols of regeneration. In addition, the poppy is associated with the snow leopard spirit animal, as both live and thrive in the lofty Himalayas.

Poppies in Cultural Mythology and Folklore

As mentioned throughout this post, the poppy has inspired the work of creative people for centuries. Here are some other examples of the poppy in cultural beliefs and mythology.

Poppy Meaning in Greek Mythology

Painting of Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams and sleep
Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams and sleep. Jean Bernard Restout, 1766. Image: Cleveland Museum of Art.

The poppy appears a number of times in Greek and Roman mythology. As mentioned earlier, the Greeks associate Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreaming, with the poppy. They also associated Morpheus’ his father, Hypnos, with the potent flower, as Hypnos managed to put the mighty Zeus to sleep.

In addition, the goddess Demeter was said to have made poppy tea in order to sleep while her daughter Persephone journeyed back and forth to the Underworld.

Poppy Symbolism in Ancient Egypt

Osiris
Egyptian artwork, Osiris, the god of death and agriculture, Seti I temple, Abydos, Egypt. Image: Amice M. Calverley and Alan Gardiner.

The ancient Egyptians associated poppies with Osiris, who was both the god of death and agriculture. So, it’s possible that even the ancient Egyptians understood poppies’ usefulness in crop rotation.

The Egyptians also included poppies in much of their artwork, including artifacts buried with mummies. They, too, associated the flower with eternal life.

Poppy Symbolism in Christianity

In Christianity, the poppy is a symbol of the blood of Christ and the sacrifice of his death on Earth. In addition, Christians associate the poppy with Jesus’ resurrection and ascent to Heaven and immortality.

Remembrance After World War I

Poppy Wreath
A poppy wreath at an English cemetery in Málaga, Spain, Remembrance Day 2020. Photo: Daniel Capilla.

As referenced earlier, after World War I, the poppy came to symbolize remembrance of and honor for the soldiers who died in battle. To this day, people from Europe, the UK, Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and other nations honor the fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day by wearing poppies on their lapels and laying poppies on the graves of those who died in battle.

Poppy Symbolism in Asia

In Asian countries, including China and Japan, poppies also symbolize honor for those who have passed. However, they also symbolize romantic love and passion.

Poppy Tattoo Meaning

Poppy TattooA poppy tattoo can be loaded with meaning. It can symbolize love and honor for a loved one who has passed and/or those who have died in battle. In addition, it can symbolize escapism and the dreamlike state of creativity. A poppy can be an especially powerful design for a tattoo because the flower has had such a profound impact on people’s imaginations throughout history.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here