Sunday, March 3, 2013


Hi everyone! I was looking through our herbal that I’m adding information to, and I realized that I’m very much lacking flower info! I’m awaiting one source, called simply, “A Medieval Book of Flowers,” which looks very beautiful and helpful. One article I came across also is all about the history of the carnation flower, of which we have a type in our Heraldic Garden here at Loyola. It’s written by our good friend and expert medieval botanist John H. Harvey.

 A lovely modern carnation. Image from http://www.flowers-cs.com/carnation.html
Carnations, Harvey tells us, are mistakenly believed to be an ancient flower of Britain but “it now seems far more probable that the real carnation, the old double red clove, is the most modern of all the classical plants brought into cultivation [in England] before the great age of introductions.”[1] He tells us how the confusion arose, beginning from ancient Rome: Pliny misidentified it as a particular plant from Spain used in flavoring. (The plant actually was in Spain, from the East and under a different name, and the Spanish carnations were named differently than Stock/Wallflower.) Then the confusion was compounded further by William Turner, who mistakenly called Pliny’s flower the English “wylde gelouer or gelefloure.”[2] This flower is known now as “gillyflower,” however, it was “not found in [that] spelling until 1535…” Once more, confusion added to confusion, as the English called many things ‘gilliflower.’[3]
So what are we left with? Well Harvey comes to the conclusion that carnations were first “in Turkey and the Middle East, and also in Western Europe,” but the latter not until “after 1500.”[4] Harvey concludes this by careful study of pictorial images from the Mediterranean and also lists and gardening documentation in medieval England. Harvey also follows the trails left by these documents through the plant’s cultivation in turkey, to when the “Ottomans had crossed into Europe at the Dardanelles in 1353” and brought it West, so we could eventually enjoy it. [5]
 A medieval Italian rendering of a carnation. From http://vintageprintable.swivelchairmedia.com/botanical/botanical-flower-various/botanical-flower-carnation-italian-13/ 

As always, stay warm, if you’re a teacher or student at Loyola then enjoy your break, and hopefully I’ll see you at the garden when it’s nicer outside!


[1] John H. Harvey, “Gillyflower and Carnation.” Garden History Vol 6 (1978); 46-57.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

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