Page 1

COMMON STAR OF BETHLEHEM, DOVE'S DUNG ORNITHOGALUM UMBELLATUM J. C. N .

WILLIS

plant was proposed for preservation on road verges leading to Redgrave Fen at a meeting on 3rd December. To me it seems hardly to need preservation in one particular spot, when it is so frequent on all road sides and pasture along the Waveney on both sides from Great Yarmouth to Redgrave and then after an interval appears at Lakenheath near the Little Ouse. THIS

A distribution map I made from our records shows it as sporadic throughout East Suffolk and most of West Suffolk. It is also widely distributed in Norfolk. Botanical authorities consider it as probably indigenous to East Anglia, though introduced elsewhere. It is to be noted that it is most frequent along our rivers and estuaries flowing into the North Sea and that it is a common plant also on the other side of the Sea. This does suggest that like the Fritillary of whose distribution Mr. Simpson wrote in Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. Vol. 13, pt. 4— that at a time when this Sea floor was dry land and a huge River Rhine flowed out to sea northwards of the British Isles as they are now this plant was common throughout the great Rhine basin. Our rivers were then tributaries of an old Thames which ran past our coasts to join the great Rhine. If it is mere speculation that Star of Bethlehem had come as far north as this by then from the Mediterranean countries and the Near East, what is known is that for many centuries past people in this country have been transferring the wild plant from pastures and rough ground to their gardens—not for the beauty of an early spring flower but to have it handy for the kitchen—they in fact ate the bulbs. Gerard (1596) teils us they were doing this in his day and quotes Dioscurides, physician to Cleopatra, as saying that the roots (i.e., bulbs) are eaten raw or boiled or roasted. Anne Pratt (1855) quotes this and adds that this vegetable is rather nasty and sticky. But Parkinson (1567-1650) the last of our old English herbalists describes it as being "sweeter in taste than any chestnut and serving as well for a necessary need as for delight." Anne must have been a poor cook.


325 To go much further back in time, 900 to 800 B.C., we read in the Book of Kings II, ch. 6, 25 "that when Samaria was besieged and there was great famine in Samaria—a fourth part of a kab of Dove's Dung was sold forfivepieces of silver." It was the price of less than a pint of bulbs not the eating of dove's dung that shocked the Chronicler. It was Dioscurides who adopted the pretty name Ornithogalum, Birds' Milk, for the vulgär Dove's Dung. A. W. Anderson in his beautifully illustrated "Plants of the Bible" offers an explanation of the common name. "The plant grows plentifully in the Holy Land as a wildflower.It prefers stony hilsides and rocky places and paints them with the abundance of its blossoms until they have the appearance of cliffs and buildings whitened by the droppings of pigeons." Well, though the plant is common wild in Suffolk, perhaps this is a good reason for preserving it so—in case of famine in our land. COMMON STAR OF BETHLEHEM

REFERENCES

Pratt, Anne, Flowering Plants. Gerard's Herball. Tournforte's Institutiones Rei Herbariae publ. 1700. Anderson, A. W., Plants of the Bible. Our many Recorders of Wild Plants. Simpson, F. W., Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. Vol. 13 pt. 4. The Holy Bible.

The Common Star of Bethlehem, Dove's Dung (Ornithogalum umbelletum)  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you