Thursday, 30 July 2009

The White Bryony- The Wild Plants of France 1.

I choose to write about this species solely because when I looked with a lens at the male flowers, they displayed three apparent boxing gloves thrust towards me. The gloves are the three stamens. Why three? Unless the plants are monocotyledons where parts in three are commonplace, three is an unusual number. Two, four or five is more likely. The flower has five petals and sepals. In fact the three stamens consist of a fusion of 2x2 plus one free = 5. It still is odd.
As with other members of the family (Cucumber family) it has tendrils with which to climb. These tendrils are also strange. They start with a long thin thread which, when it hits a support twines, but the length behind behaves in a remarkable way. Somewhere near the centre the twisting changes so that the proximal part and the distal part twist in opposite directions. But the proximal portion does not always twist in the same direction, clockwise or anti-clockwise appear, it seems, just as frequently. The distal bit is always contrary to the proximal. So what controls what? After the twist is begun, the two portions twist more and more tightly, thus drawing the stem to clutch at the support.
The flowers are either male or female and are borne on separate plants. I haven’t a clue what pollinates them.
The herbalist books are full of accounts of the medicinal value of the plant and its power to kill. It is said that 20 red berries are enough to kill a human. The oddest accounts of it is speak of it as being used as a pretend mandrake root. John Donne, writing of the impossible, says ‘Go and catch a falling star, Get with child a mandrake root…’ So the root of this White Bryony was paraded as the English Mandrake. The theory is that if a woman hung it around her neck she could become pregnant. The Mandrake, not a plant of Britain, has distorted roots which can have a human like form. The White Bryony has a huge root and it can be forced to grow into a human shape. We are told that pottery moulds in the form of a human body were made in which the root was encouraged to grow. It soon fills the mould. Such roots could be sold in unscrupulous pharmacies, so they say! I have dug up the root of the Bryony and they are certainly huge. They are very brittle. Their consistency is rather like a brittle plastic foam. The books give an account of a root weighing in at over 56 lbs (25 kilos).

1 comment:

Wilma said...

Very interesting!