Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Basilius Besler:
Autumn mandrake and lesser celandine

The main subject of this engraving by Basilius Besler (1561 – 1629) shows Mandragora autumnalis, the autumn mandrake. The small plant shown is Ranunculus ficaria, also known as lesser celandine.

A few facts about Basilius Besler and the Hortus Eystettensis

A few facts about Mandragora
1. As the bottom of the illustration shows, the root of the mandrake is often forked.
2. When a fork occurs in the root, the root is sometimes thought to resemble the human form: two "legs", a trunk, and "hair" atop the root.
3. According to folklore, the root screams when dug up; the screams kill all who hear it. There's plenty of folklore about the mandrake, maybe more about this plant than any other.
4. Leonhart Fuchs in De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Notable commentaries on the history of plants) mentioned a robust market in sales of canna roots forged to look like mandrakes.
5. In Act I, Scene V of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra asks for mandrake so "That I might sleep out this great gap of time. My Antony is away."

A few facts about Ranunculus ficaria
1. The colloquial name is lesser celandine.
2. It is a low-growing perennial that blooms between March and May.
3. In much of North America the plant is considered to be invasive.
4. Wordsworth was fond of the plant; indeed, he wrote three poems to it. One begins:
Pleasures newly found are sweet
When they lie about our feet...

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