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The beautiful Levant cotton grown in Bonnefont Herb Garden. Although Gossypium herbaceum is described as having yellow flowers, our plants are creamy white.

Photograph by Carly Still. Levant cotton Gossypium herbaceum is a beautiful plant.

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I was quickly charmed by its flawless, creamy white flowers, which bloom in our Medieval Artists and Craftsmen bed through the summer months. This economically important fiber plant belongs to the Mallow family Malvaceae , and is a relative of some of my garden favorites, like the hollyhock Alcea rosea and common mallow Malva sylvestris , both of which are medieval and grown in the medicinal bed.

Gossypium herbaceum is an Old World species native to Africa and Asia, where its use as a fiber plant has been demonstrated for thousands of years. Cotton is also a New World species, with close to ninety percent of cotton production being supplied from G. The cotton is then harvested either by hand the old-fashioned way or by machine. In Bonnefont Herb Garden, we grow a limited number of each medieval species, but I'm sure the sight of a cotton field would be pretty spectacular.

Levant cotton, shown in Bonnefont Herb Garden this fall, requires high temperatures for its "bolls," or seed pods, to ripen and burst, exposing fine white cotton fibers. Cotton found its way into Europe through the Islamic conquests and a fascinating story soon followed, which brings me to the tale of the "vegetable lamb" Anderson, Medieval Europeans were tantalized by the mysterious legend of a so-called plant-animal dubbed the "vegetable lamb" or "Barometz," which was believed to be a creature that was part animal and part plant and which supplied soft, white fiber thought to be a type of fine wool.

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This plant-animal was described as. The stem, or stalk, on which the lamb was thus suspended above the ground was sufficiently flexible to allow the animal to bend downward, and browse on the herbage within its reach. When all the grass within the length of its tether had been consumed the stem withered and the lamb died. Two variations of the barometz myth circulated in the Middle Ages. The first was that the plant bore many different pods, which burst open to reveal tiny lambs. So it became a single lamb set upon the top of the plant, bending down periodically on the flexible stem to graze on the vegetation surrounding it.

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Leave it to the Renaissance, though, to begin the process of unraveling the fable of the vegetable lamb. The great Italian polymath Girolamo Cardano pointed out in that soil could not provide the requisite heat for the lamb to survive, especially during its embryonic development, which may go down in history as the most overly sophisticated argument against an overly silly belief ever honorable mention: when that lady had to debunk a CNN anchor's assertion that a black hole could swallow a missing plane.

Yet several more writers over the next century and a half insisted they glimpsed the strange animal-plant in their travels. And even without a shred of real evidence, even in the era of unprecedented proliferation of scientific learning, the tale persisted. The specimen was a foot long, with seven protuberances, and covered in a sort of down.

It was a fern rhizome, a structure equivalent to the stem of flowering plants, manipulated to look like an animal.

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And it was rhizomes like this, Sloane argued, that gave rise to the myth. A fine bit of evidence against the absurdity of the vegetable lamb tale, to be sure, but learned men traveling in Tartary still stubbornly took it upon themselves to further search for the creature. That is, until another scientist presented a second specimen to the Royal Society 25 years after the first.

But this one was far more gussied up. Instead, it grows in tropical southern China.

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But in the eyes of the scientific community, the mystery was solved. The plant that prompted this legend is a type of fern, the Cibotium barometz. The Museum of Garden history has one of these vegetable lamb roots, their particular specimen preserved under glass around the middle of the 19th century see postcard photo below. The stuffed example seems to be made of beaks…. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account.

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