Papaver palaver

Last summer a friend gave me some seeds from the clusters of Papaver cambricum, Welsh poppy/pabi Cymraeg, growing in her garden (formerly Meconopsis cambrica, the hardy perennial was renamed in 2017 after molecular phylogenetic studies showed it to be a ‘true’ poppy). In the autumn I duly pushed a few of the seeds into a pot of humus-rich soil and left them to overwinter in a shady spot. Then this spring a clump of fern-like leaves appeared, shortly followed by the flower buds on the end of fine stalks. Now the many buds have begun to burst open one after the other, with their lemon-yellow petals encircling a little nest of yellow anthers and a petite pale green central stigma. The flowers don’t last long, the petals soon falling to leave a seed pod where the pollen from the anthers has fertilised the ovules via the stigma, but new blooms soon open to continue the dazzling display. Given that the plant self-seeds freely and as a Welsh native will be completely at home with whatever climate, soil and sunlight conditions Cardiff might throw at it, I can be certain that it will be a permanent resident in my garden. Moreover, I shall have an indefinite supply of P.cambricum seeds to scatter around the city wherever I go – ‘guerilla gardening’ to turn waste-ground into insect restaurants and establish this symbol of Wales across the capital.

Papaver cambricum

In 2006 Plaid Cymru, rebranding during the Ieuan Wyn Jones era, replaced the old green triban (three peaks) that had been the party’s logo since 1933 with a stylised Welsh poppy.

Previous and current Plaid logos

Although I was fond of the triban and grumbled about the the change at the time, I now concede that the Welsh poppy is a more powerful visual representation of the struggle for Welsh independence. After all, it is one of the very few manifestations of ‘Welshness’ accepted in global discourse (along with Welsh dresser, Welsh harp, Welsh corgi, Welsh terrier, Welsh springer spaniel, Welsh mountain pony and Welsh onion). So the more Welsh poppies that pop up around Cymru, symbolically as well as actually, the better.

Plaid is in a state of flux at the moment with an election to replace Adam Price as leader due in the summer (nominations close 16th June, so far only Ynys Môn MS Rhun ap Iorwerth has announced his candidacy). Price resigned on principle after a critical internal report into the sexist behaviour of some of the senior heterosexual men in Plaid (a very different reaction to, say, the UK Conservative Party in which nearly 60 MPs, including three cabinet ministers, have faced claims of sexual misconduct with precious few consequences and no internal investigations). His 4½ years as leader contained some notable achievements thanks to Plaid’s co-operation agreement with the Labour government in the Senedd, such as free school meals for primary school children, free pre-school childcare, the establishment of a national care system, action to tackle the housing crisis, new railways, support for family farms, net zero targeting, renewable energy generation, Senedd reform, etc. However I can’t escape the feeling that his tenure as Plaid’s 10th leader in 100 years was an overall disappointment. Wales never really got to see the Adam Price of yore, the passionate, articulate, inspiring polemicist who might lead us to independence. Instead he seemed burdened, hamstrung and under-cooked by the responsibilities of leadership; perhaps his return to the backbenches will recharge his batteries and uncork his mojo again.

Returning to Botany, the news that the Welsh poppy is a full-blown member of the Papaver family, rather than the related but distinct Meconopsis genus, does not unfortunately mean that I can acquire the constituents of opium (or poppy seed cake, for that matter) in my back yard. For those delights I would need a different poppy species, Papaver somniferum. The opium poppy, let us never forget, was used by the British Empire as a lucrative commodity from the 17th century onwards. Seen as just another investment opportunity by the British bastards, opium was disgracefully smuggled into China against the wishes of the Chinese government for over 100 years causing catastrophic epidemics of addiction, countless deaths and social collapse. It took two wars in the 19th century to put a stop to the evil empire’s trade. No wonder China wants revenge…

Pictures: Dic Mortimer, Wikipedia