Poppy + Gladioli in August :: Birth Flowers of the Month

When you hear the word "poppy", what image springs to mind? Is it fields of bright poppies swaying in the wind in springtime in Europe? Or delectable pastries and cakes with crunchy black poppy seeds? Or the carefree, single petal orange poppy, the state flower of California? Perhaps you think of opium, both medicinal and historical, which is derived from the ancient poppy. Or is it the ode to the red poppy flower in the poem "In Flanders Fields" written to commemorate the fallen soldiers in the Great War?

As well as all the above associations, it has one more special purpose - it's one of the traditional Birth Flowers for August. A bit of a multi-tasker, you could say.

But as well as the poppy, there's a second flower to celebrate this month: the gladioli. Often derided as a too-common florist flower in the latter half of the 20th century, when garish colours were all the rage, it's come back into favour in both the florist and gardening worlds due to the select breeding of more delicately coloured varieties. 

Let's discover a bit more about these special 2 birth flowers for August....


 The gloriously colourful poppy is the traditional birth flower for August. 

Through the dancing poppies stole
A breeze most softly lulling to my soul.
— John Keats

 Californian poppy in palest yellow. 


In the traditional language of flowers, the poppy symbolises remembrance

The red poppy has long been a symbol of remembrance, stretching back to Ancient Greek and Roman days, when it was used as an offering to the newly dead to wish them peaceful eternal sleep.

(It was used to portray this endless sleep in the Wizard of Oz, tempting the questing foursome with its powerful, magical sleeping qualities, in the field of poppies scene.)

The sleep inducing, as well as pain-killing, properties of opium placed the crops in much demand, especially during the 19th century when opiate use became quite common place amongst fine European society, culminating in the Opium Wars and the closing of Western trade with China in the mid 1800s.

But in 1915, in the midst of the Great War, the meaning of poppies would change, when a young Canadian soldier & surgeon wrote the poignant poem, "In Flanders Fields"...

This poem, as well as the poppy's symbolism of remembrance, is the reason why red poppies are still handed out today at memorial services around the world. 

BOTANICAL notes about the poppy

Species include the Meconopsis (Himalayan & Welsh poppy) and the Papaver (Oriental, Opium, Iceland &  Corn poppy).

The seeds are planted in autumn, with the flowers appearing in spring. They are very easy care plants - and will readily self-seed each year in the garden, as long as they have sufficient sunshine. The most common garden variety are the Oriental and Iceland poppies. They are mostly single petalled, but there are some (newer) varieties of deeply ruffled double petals, which almost have a peony appearance. 

 The peony poppy double red from lambley nurseries has the look of a peony, but the easy care growing appeal of a poppy. 

The peony poppy double red from lambley nurseries has the look of a peony, but the easy care growing appeal of a poppy. 

As the source of opium, Papaver Somniferum gives us morphine and codeine, while the plant's seeds are used for both poppyseed oil and poppyseeds for cooking.

(Neither the oil nor the seeds used for culinary purposes have residual opiates left in them.)

We are slumberous poppies,
Lords of Lethe Downs,
some awake and some asleep,
Sleeping in our crowns.

What perchance
Our dreams may know,
Let our serious may know.”
— James Henry Leigh Hunt


moral integrity,

The gladiolus is the other birth flower for our month of August. Like the poppy, it also symbolises remembrance, but it's got a few other meanings up its sleeve, too. 

It's said that people born in the month of August inherit all these fabulous qualities by default, which would be rather nice. So according to old folk lore, if you are born in August you would be a natural leader, be very strong in character with a high standard of moral integrity and not be easily forgotten. Quite a list! 

BOTANICAL notes about gladiolus

As a member of the iris family, gladioulus is perenial flowering plant which carries its flowers on tall spikes like a sword - which is how it got its name. Gladiolus is derived from the Latin name for sword: "gladius". In fact, one of its common names is "sword lily".

They grow from corms which are planted in the ground in spring. Each year, the corms will throw up long spears or stems which carry the flowers on one side of the spiked stem. The leaves grow on blades to surround the flower spears. 

Originating in Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean part of Europe, there are around 300 species, from which a multitude of varieties have been bred. I personally love the delicately coloured versions - with tall spikes of palest mauve, cream, whites and pinks, and the ones with coloured "patterns" on them. The plants range from tall monsters - well over 1500 mm high - to little babies about 300 mm high. 

Most gladiolus flower throughout summer and right through into autumn, but some flower in early spring. If left in the garden in a happy spot, the corms will multiply each year and provide an ever-expanding crop of flowers. A "happy spot" means plenty of sunshine, and moist, but not water-logged soil. They are fairly unfussy - and don't require much in the way of fertiliser. A soaking of seaweed derived fertiliser in early summer is appreciated, and that's about it really. 

Both the poppy and the gladiolus are easy to grow, so gifting a person born in August with a packet of poppy seeds or a corm of gladiolus, or a pot of either, would be a welcome gift for a gardener who loves a bit of colour and has a sunny spot in their garden. 

As a bonus, they are very bee-friendly plants too - and a lovely way to help provide a little bit of food for the hard workers of the pollination world. 

All poppy & gladiolus flower images from Lambley Nurseries. Poppy botanical illustration.