Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Rag trees

1. Hawthorn [Crataegus] bush near the Hoe Pool on Bodmin Moor [Cornwall] known as the healing tree. Fragments of material or ribbons that had been in contact with a sick person or wound were tied to the tree. The belief was that as the materials rotted and were blown away so was the infection. 1970s [Hilltop Garden Club, Eastcombe, Gloucestershire, December 2013].

2.  Back in July, when travelling by coach on the Kola Peninsula, in Russia, going over a bridge across a lake on the side away from a town called Apatity, I noticed a tree with coloured bits of cloth – as far as I could see mainly yellow and white – on it.  I asked our translator what it meant.  She didn’t know. About a week later she explained that when a couple gets married it is the custom for the man to carry the bride across the bridge for luck, and the guests have a wedding picnic and they tie bits of cloth on the tree [Streatham, London, August 2002].

Images: main, Cloutie tree near Madron Well [Penzance, Cornwall], August 2006; Jim Champion, Wiki Commons; inset, ‘Votive rags from bushes at Holy Well at Church of the Four Comely Saints, Aranmore, Aran Ids, Co. Galway’, in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, photographed March 2024.