Botree

See PEAPUL (Ficus religiosa) Bocconia frutescens > TREE CELANDINE BOG ASPHODEL

(Narthecium ossifragum) It is said in the Highlands that this plant (what Otta Swire called the little golden bog orchid, if that is correct identification, for she may have had in mind the rare Bog Orchid, Hammarbya paludosa) first grew by the Falls of Ragie, Strathpeffer, when the Virgin Mary, walking over the moor, stopped at some marshy ground to tuck up her robe. As she undid her golden girdle it slipped through her fingers into the peat bog and sank out of sight. Where it had fallen, the orchids grew (Swire. 1963).

The specific name, ossifragum, means "bone-breaker", because as it grows on wet moors and mountains, sheep pasturing there often suffered from foot-rot, and this was attributed to their browsing on these plants (Grieve. 1931); it "softened their bones", it was said in the Lake District (Vickery. 1985). In Norway they went further - not only that sheep and cattle that fed on the plant got their bones soft, but it was also said they could be rolled up and moulded into any desired shape! (Coats. 1975). The plant is called Cruppany Grass in Donegal, cruppany being the disease in sheep that the plant was believed to cause - "bone stiffness", seemingly quite different to the English and Scottish descriptions of the disease. But it is not all just superstition, for it is known to be toxic to both sheep and cattle.

One of the names for this plant is Lancashire Asphodel (Prior), and the classification at one time was Asphodelus lancastriae. In the same county it was called Maiden's Hair, for bog asphodel was, in the 17th century, the basis of a popular Lancashire hair dye (Putnam). After the yellow flowers have faded, the stems change to a saffron colour, and it is from these that the dye is extracted.

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