Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: Shergrasse

David Pearman is interested in the identity of sher-grasse.
According to William Turner, in his New Herbal, 1551, ‘segge or shergrasse’ has ‘edges … so sharp, that they will cut a mannes hand … the northern men call it shere gresse … it hath a long stalke, and three square’.
Is this the same species as the one John Ray refers to in his Catalogus plantarum circa Cantabrigiam nascentium, 1660, which is traditionally considered to be the first British record of great fen-sedge, Cladium mariscus?

Response
James Britten and Robert Holland, in their Dictionary of English Plant-names, 1886, state that they consider Turner’s plant to be ‘likely’ to be Cladium mariscus. However, they note that Prior, in his On the Popular Names of British Plants, 1879, consider the plant to be a sedge (Carex). Study of the various works which they cite suggests that the name shergrasse was not used for any one species, but was applied to a number of sharp-leaved monocotyledonous plants [RV, October 2012; for a more lengthy version of this response contact the Compiler].

Image: great fen-sedge; J.G.Sturm, Deutschlands Flora in Abbilungen, 1796.

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