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Poppies: Les Coquelicots de Provence

Poppies: Les Coquelicots de Provence

A field filled with poppies evokes wonder…it is hard to believe. Living in Provence gives a special vantage point from which to watch this magic unfold. At the beginning of May, it begins. At first, it is just a spattering in a random field. Splashes of red here and there. Then it spreads. After a week, the red fills a good portion of the field…and within a couple of weeks entire fields are flooded with poppies.

This wild plant is a prolific self-seeder. I spoke to the farmer who cultivates the fields around our house. One of these fields was full of poppies this year. I asked him why…it seems so random (the location of the best poppy fields in Provence varies greatly from year to year). He said poppies thrive in freshly churned fields. Often these fields are at rest between seasonal plantings. The poppies may propagate in vacant lots as well…and certainly along many of the roadsides all over the region. A single poppy seedpod carries a large quantity of seeds (~200), perfectly crafted to be transported by the wind. 

The farmer said that poppies are always a good sign. They are resilient but also fragile plants. They thrive in a field if the field is generally not tainted by pesticides. He said he sees more and more poppy fields following recent French legislation that put a ban on certain pesticides. And of course, the climate in Provence is perfectly adapted to making the month of May the month of poppies.

The poppy as a flower is full of meaning in France. In French, the word poppy is ‘coquelicot’. The name was given to the plant (16th c.) due to its resemblance to a rooster’s red comb (rooster = coq, in French). The colors of the French flag when symbolized in flowers are: cornflower (blue), daisy (white) and poppy (red). There is also the historic sentiment that is connected to WWI, where fields of poppies represented fields of blood - a lost generation to war.

In art, Monet and Van Gogh brought the red fields of poppies in France to their canvases. When standing before a painting of a field flush with red poppies, it is hard to believe the artist was depicting reality. Come to Provence in May and you can witness the wonder of standing in one of those fields.

Is there anything more magical than spreading out a tablecloth for an impromptu picnic in a poppy field?