Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

QUERY: St Lawrence plant

Posted on by royvickery |

Nora Bennett enquires about St Lawrence plant, which according to Wikipedia is a name for bugle, Ajuga reptans:  ‘Do you know anything about bugle being known as St Lawrence plant?

St Lawrence plant is not listed in the extensive database of ‘local’ plant-names associated with this website, and it appears to be a North American, rather than a British, name.  Any explanations of  the name would be greatly appreciated; please send them to roy@plant-lore.com

Comments:

1. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (1992) lists seven St Laurence or Lawrences, none of whom appear to have any attributes which might associate them with bugle.  However, bugle has been introduced to North America, where it can become invasive, so it is possible that the name St Lawrence plant refers to the St Lawrence River [RV, May 2021].

2.  A quick look through a variety of floras of North America in the library of the Natural History Museum, London, revealed no mention of name St Lawrence plant, so it appears that it is not a name which is widespread or commonly used [RV, October 2021].

3.  Bugle is (allegedly) called herbe de Saint-Laurent in French, and similarly in Italian.  I don’t know of any connection to St Lawrence’s patron-saint groups or attributes though.  I think bugle is depicted in Juan de Correa de Vivar’s 1559 painting of St Lorenzo/Lawrence, now in the Prado, Madrid [Struan Gray, May 2022].

4.  It seems as if the plant in de Vivar’s painting might be bugle, but interestingly bugle does not appear to have any St Lorenzo/Lawrence names in Spanish [RV, May 2022].

5.  My mother was French and the plant she called herbe de St-Laurent was sanicle [Sanicula europaea].  It was purportedly used to treat burns to treat burns because St Lawrence was burned to death [Jane Lawson, May 2022].

6. Examined de Vivar’s painting in the Prado Museum, but the plant does not appear to be bugle, and all the plants in the painting (especially the tree) appear to be stylised depictions of plants in general, rather than of any particular species [RV, June 2022].

Images: upper, bugle cultivated in the garden of the South London Botanical Institute, Tulse Hill, London Borough of Lambeth, May 2021; lower, sanicle, St Mary Magdalene churchyard, Latimer, Buckinghamshire, June 2022.

Updated  21 June 2022.

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