Botanically Inspired Books and Poems Reviewed By Patrick Ryan

Patrick Ryan, Education Specialist, Alaska Botanical Garden

This Veterans Day you may be enjoying a day off. Take some time to think about those red poppies that you will be seeing everywhere. What’s the story behind this beautiful flower?

Start your investigation with the poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe!

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high!

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


Here are some great picture books to help you learn more about this tradition. These books are not just for children. They have beautiful art and will help you learn something new.

Many of these books can be found on You Tube.



Moina Belle Michael was teaching at the University of Georgia’s Normal School in 1917, when her country entered the First World War. Vowing to do what she could for the “lads” in uniform, she began by knitting socks and rolling bandages. Later she took a position in New York City, where she helped departing soldiers. Inspired by McCrae’s poem beginning “In Flanders fields the poppies blow,” Michael launched a successful campaign encouraging people to wear poppies in honor of fallen soldiers. From BOOKLIST.


Another plant-related association with WWI comes from the poet Joyce Kilmer, who  was killed in WWI. His best-known poem is TREES:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;


A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;


Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

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