The August birth flowers, gladiolus and poppy, both symbolize remembrance. These two summer bloomers come in a variety of colors and make for great cut flowers. Learn more about the meaning, history, and symbolism behind the gladiolus and the poppy!
What are the Birth Flowers for the Month of August?
Gladiolus, a symbol of strength and love, provides height to the garden and a splash of much-needed color in the final full month of the summer season.
The poppy, known best for its red color and made famous by a poem written more than a century ago, has long been associated with those lost during times of war.
The gladiolus is a member of the Iris family (Iridaceae) and is native to Africa, the Mediterranean, and southern Europe, with more than 300 species that come in a range of vibrant colors.
Also known as “sword lily,” the gladiolus got its name from the sword-like appearance of its leaves. “Gladiolus” itself comes from the Latin word gladius, meaning “sword.” The stalks appear in early summer, producing foliage that reaches between 2- to 5-feet-tall, depending on the variety. The flowers are classified in five categories that indicate size, from large-flowered and miniature.
In mid- to late summer, the trumpet-shaped flowers bloom, opening from the bottom up. Colors include white, pink, red, purple, and yellow, among many others.
Gladiolus Meanings and Symbolism
The flower has long been a symbol of strength, victory, healing, and honor. It has also been associated with moral character, remembrance, and intelligence.
In Victorian times, romantics believed that the beauty of the gladiolus could pierce another’s heart with love. In floral meanings, the flower also came to symbolize infatuation, love at first sight, and faithfulness. Discover more flower meanings here!
Each color holds a different meaning: Red symbolizes love, romance, and passion; pink means compassion and a mother’s love; white represents innocence and purity; yellow symbolizes friendship and joy; and purple means fortune and beauty.
In addition to being one of the August birth flowers, the gladiolus is traditionally given as a gift for 40th anniversaries.
The Gladiolus in History
The first South African species was brought to Europe in the mid-18th century. By the early 19th century, enthusiasts in England began the process of hybridizing the flowers and making them more well suited to the home gardens.
In ancient Rome, the gladiolus was known as the flower of the gladiators, with spectators covering the winner of the fight in the colorful blooms.
It became popular in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century, which led to the creation of the American Gladiolus Society in Boston in 1910.
Gladiolus in the Garden
The gladiolus prefers full sun and rich, loamy, well-drained soil, although it will adapt to most soils. It also requires protection from strong winds, which can blow over its tall flower stalks.
The corms (root parts) of the gladiolus are tender and, in cold areas, should be dug up each fall and replanted the following spring. Bulbs must be planted after the last frost and once the soil has warmed. Each year, new corms form atop the old one. The old corm dies, while the bud develops on the new corm.
The flower is beautiful in a garden setting, as well as in containers and along borders, but it is most valued as a cut flower. To maximize your cut flowers, cut the spike between the second and fourth leaf when the first flower is showing color and immediately put in water.
Member of the Papaveraceae family, poppies grow all over the world, including the temperate climates of Eurasia, Africa, and North America. The most recognizable poppy species are the Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), and California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).
Poppies vary in size quite a bit, but generally have delicate yet showy flowers of four to six petals surrounding many stamens; the flowers grow on long, hairy stalks. The flower buds are initially bent down before turning up as they open.
The poppy’s name comes from the Latin word pappa, meaning milk. The stalks and buds of some poppy species produce a milky, latex-like substance when cut. Most notably, the sap of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) has been harvested for use in pharmaceutical opiates and illicit drugs.
In home gardens, the poppy is more commonly grown for its seeds, which can be used in cooking and baking.
Poppy Meanings and Symbolism
In addition to being a long time symbol of remembrance, poppies have long been associated with sleep and death. It also symbolizes relaxation and recovery.
In Greco-Roman myths, the flowers were part of offerings to the dead and poppies are found on tombstones to represent eternal sleep.
According to Greek mythology, the poppy was associated with Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. It was believed if poppies grew in your field, a bountiful crop would follow.
In ancient Greece, poppies were associated with Hypnos, the god of sleep, Thanatos (death), and Morpheus (dreams).
It is believed that poppy flowers will help you remember your loved ones who have passed.
The poppy is the state flower of California.
The Poppy in History
Canadian poet John McCrae, who served as a military physician during World War I, penned the famous poem, “In Flanders Field,” in 1915 that begins with the line: In Flanders Field the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row. It led to the association between the poppy and those lost in battle.
In European cemeteries where soldiers were buried from World War I, disturbing the soil caused poppies to grow from seeds that had been dormant for years.
L. Frank Baum includes poppies in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” creating a field of the flowers that causes Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto to fall asleep on their journey to the Emerald City.
On September 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of the American Legion. It is used to memorialize those who fought and died during the First World War. Each year, the American Legion Auxiliary distributes poppies around Memorial Day, requesting recipients to make a donation to support veterans and active-duty personnel.
On Remembrance Day (November 11), citizens all around Britain and other former Commonwealth countries wear paper crimson poppies to honor those lost in battle. Its symbol of remembrance is recognized in many cultures around the world.
Poppies in the Garden
There are both annual and perennial species of poppies, most of which prefer cooler summer temperatures. Sow seeds directly into garden soil or container soil, as poppies do not transplant well. Poppies will reseed themselves and can be considered a weed in gardens if not kept under a watchful eye.
The flowers are an important pollen source for bees and also make for a great cut flower, although they only last a few days indoors. Cut them when the bud is just beginning to open. After being cut, heat treat the stem with a match or lighter to stop the milky fluid from leaking into the water.