Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


Meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii), native to California, has been cultivated in the British Isles as an ornamental since 1833. Although it is annual, it readily seeds itself and once established forms spreading colonies, so it is frequently passed around between neighbours or donated to local plant sales.
Writing in 1893 T.F. Elworthy recorded Sebastopool daisy as a Devon name for meadowfoam. He considered this name to be ‘clearly a modern invention … without the redeeming quality of truth, L. douglasii having been introduced from California’. Presumably he was thinking of the British bombardment of Sebastopool (now Sevastopol) during the Crimean War, but there is, in fact, a town of Sebastopool in California. This developed during the 1850s and expanded during the Californian gold rush, so it is possible that the Limnanthes grown in Devon late in the nineteenth century could have descended from seeds brought back from California from a gold prospector.
The names American buttercup, poached eggs and fair-maid-of-France were all recorded from Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, in 1900. and ham-and-eggs was recorded from Broadway, Worcestershire. Today Limnanthes is usually known as poached-egg plant.

Adapted from R. Vickery, Garlands, Conkers and Mother-die: British and Irish Plant-lore, London, 2010: 116.

Image: Goodmayes Allotments, Essex, May 2010; © Francesco Cillini.

Updated 13 September 2017.