"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (2 of 2)

Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (2 of 2)

From “Lovesome Flowers” in The Origins of Garden Plants by John Fisher:

“[Just] as the [sixteenth] century draws to a close we meet with John Gerard, probably the most frequently quoted garden writer of his day. Gerard was born in 1545 and qualified as a Member of the Court of Assistants of Barber-Surgeons in 1595 and as Master in 1608….

“Gerard had his own garden, thought to be in Holborn, and his catalogue of plants, which listed more than a thousand species, many for the first time, is believed to have been based on those growing there at the time, that is, in 1596. The famous Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes was published in the following year….

“The descriptions which it gives of even the most commonplace plants are highly readable, and the style is confidential so that one might imagine that we are strolling alongside John Gerard, dressed for the part, four hundred years ago….

“Part of the attraction of Gerard’s writings lies in the unlooked for names given to familiar plants….
Leucojum vernum, known to botanists as Spring Snowflake, becomes the ‘Early Bulbous Stocke Gilloflower’…. Leucojum aestivum, Summer Snowflake, becomes ‘Early Sommer fooles or Somer Sottekins’.”

From “Of Bulbous Violets” in The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard:

“The first of these bulbous Violets riseth out of the ground, with two small leaves flat and crested, of an overworn green colour, between the which riseth up a small and slender stalk of two hands high; at the top whereof cometh forth of a skinny hood a small white flower of the bigness of a Violet, compact of six leaves, three bigger, and three lesser, tipped at the points with a light green: the smaller are fashioned into the vulgar form of a heart, and prettily edged about with green; the other three leaves are longer, and sharp pointed. The whole flower hangeth down his head, by reason of the weak foot stalk whereon it groweth. The root is small, white, and bulbous.”


This is the second of two posts featuring snowflake flowers from Oakland Cemeteries gardens. The first post is Not-Quite-Spring Spring Snowflakes (1 of 2).

I had learned a little about John Gerard’s sixteenth-century book The Herball, or, Generall Historie of Plantes last year, and written about his delightful descriptions of anemone flowers as “winde-floures” (see Anemone, the Winde-Floure (1 of 2)). I hadn’t come across mentions of the book since, until today when I was searching for something to quote about our neighborhood spring snowflakes. The first quotation above was one of the things I found, which explains how Gerard referred to Leucojum vernum as “Early Bulbous Stocke Gilloflower” — the last word also written as “gillofloure” or sometimes as “gillyflower.”

Of course I had to see if I could find these references, which took a little digging because of the variations in wording or spelling among The Herball’s various editions that have been scanned as online books. But I did findeth them after an extended passage of time (!!), discovering a chapter where Gerard groups the snowflake variations, and — with illustrations — appears to include the flower we commonly call snowdrop among his categorization of “bulbous violets.” Here are three of the pages from his “Of Bulbous Violets” chapter, showing his original illustrations of these flowers, followed by the section John Fisher refers to above.

Toward the bottom of the third image you can see the Somer Sottekins, Sommer fooles, and Stocke Gilloflower that Fisher refers to. Just above that, you can also see a very early form of the plant genus Leucojum written as “leuconarcissolirion” — a blend of terms that appears to reflect an even earlier (or perhaps concocted) version of the genus name. Happily we don’t have to call it that anymore!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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