Wayfaring Tree

(Viburnum lantana) "Wayfaring", because of the characteristic mealy appearance, like a dusty wayfarer. Evelyn mentions its use for protecting cattle from witchcraft, and see Aubrey. 1847: "... they used ... to make pinnes for the yoakes of their oxen of them, believing it had vertue to preserve them from being forespoken, as they call it; and they use to plant one by the dwelling-houses, believing it to preserve from witches and evil eyes". Another of Evelyn's claims was that "the leaves decocted to a lie, not only colour the hairs black, but fastens their roots", a point that Gerard had already made.

In Devonshire, there was a saying, "as tough as a whitney stick", whitney being one of the names of our tree, and farmers always made whips from this wood, which is very tough (Friend. 1883). "... the branches are long, tough, and easie to be bowed, and hard to be broken ."(Gerard). There are various "whip" names for the tree, "Whipcrop" being the best known. Gerard also had: "it is reported that the barks of the root of the tree buried a certaine time in the earth, and afterwards boyled and stamped according to Art, maketh a good Bird-lime for Fowlers to catch birds with".

Coven-tree is one of the names given to the tree, varied into Coban-, or Cobin-tree, a name that appears in the children's games quoted by Northall:

Keppy-ball, keppy-ball, Cobin-tree, Come down and tell me How many years old Our (Jenny) shall be ...

The number of keps, or catches before the ball falls is the age. It seems that the game was played under one of these trees (the rhyme is said by Northall to be a Tyneside one, so presumably the name was local there, too). But these names were given to any tree that stood before a Scottish mansion house; it was under this tree that the laird always went out to greet his visitors. So the word is covyne, a meeting or trysting place. In these circumstances, "keppy" in the song is likely to be Scottish kep, to meet (Grigson. 1955).

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