Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Hawksbeards, hawkbits and hawkweeds

Stuart Hedley writes:
In spite of doing field botany for a living and having a passing interest in plant-names, I have never been able to find out why so many yellow composites [Asteraceae] bear the prefix ‘hawk’. I thought it might hark back to the days of falconry, but queries in that direction have yielded nothing, so any explanations would be welcome.

Comments
1. Britten & Holland in their Dictionary of English Plant-names, 1886, quote from William Turner’s Herball, 1551-66, ii: 14, on hawkweed (Hieracium):
‘I can not gesse why this herbe shoulde have the name of a hawke, seeing other herbes have the same properties that this hathe: except it be for this cause that the downe that groweth on the toppe of this herbe after the flowers be gone be good to be taken of the hawke to make him cast his gorge wyth it.’
I’m unsure what is meant by ‘cast his gorge’ [RV, 2 September 2011].

2. Perhaps Joseph Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, 1898-1905, could be useful in explaining what is meant by ‘cast his gorge’. Under ‘hawk’ two entries seem relevant:
‘Hawk’s cud’ – the cast of a hawk, a pellet of undigested food thrown up by a hawk.’
‘Hawk – to clear the throat of phlegm; to cough; to spit.’
Thus it would seem that if a hawk was ill and unable to regurgitate the remains of its food it was dosed with the achenes (‘seeds’) of hawkbeards, etc., as a cure [Mel James, 4 September 2011].

3. According to George Hounsome writing in the London Natural History Society Newsletter, 223: 19, November 2011:
‘Hawkweeds are so called because Pliny says that hawks used it to give them acute sight’ [RV, 21 November 2011].

Image: autumn hawkbit,Scorzoneroides autumnalis ( syn. Leontodon autumnalis), Kristian Peters, Wiki Commons.

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