Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poppies - long used as a symbol of sleep and death

Poppies are among the most common spring flowers in Malta. The most familiar is the common poppy which grows in very large numbers in cultivated fields but one should take up the challenge and try to spot the other species which also thrive in the Maltese islands. 

At least five other less familiar but still common species of poppy can be found without difficulty if one looks carefully at the flowers growing in fields and along country paths at this time of the year.

The opium poppy (xaħxieħ vjola) has large violet flowers and is easily identified. Less showy but just as interesting is the bristly poppy (peprin tal-lanżit) which has claret flowers and bristly fruit. The other two common species are the long-headed poppy (pepprin tal-frotta twila) and the Mediterranean poppy (pepprin tal-istammi sofor). Another species is the yellow horned poppy (pepprin isfar) which flowers later in spring on disturbed land close to the coast.

Most poppy species have been grown in gardens and some are used for both drugs and food. The opium poppy is cultivated in large quantities for opium and opiates as well as for poppy seed which is used in cooking and baking and poppy seed oil. Poppies have long been used as a symbol of sleep and death because of the opium extracted from them and the red colour. 

In some cultures they are used as emblems in tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep and resurrection.

The poppies are just a handful of the large number of flowering plants that one can find in the Maltese countryside. Over one thousand species of flowering flowers have been recorded. 

This article was publishen in the Times on 07.04.10

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