Thursday, January 29, 2015

Great Reedmace or Bulrush?

Bulrush, I hear you cry. As in 'Moses in the Bulrushes', the painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema?
It is a popular belief that up until the time of this painting the common name for this plant, Typha latifolia, was Great Reedmace, but that his popular painting misidentified them as Bulrush and everyone subsequently jumped on the bandwagon.

This is not true of course, as it was being referred to as bulrush long before Sir Lawrence was born. Furthermore, he actually called his painting 'The Finding of Moses'. The term 'bulrush' actually comes from the old English word for papyrus, as in Cyperus papyrus, which is what Moses' floating cradle would most likely have been
made of and found amidst.

The BSBI hedges its bets by saying that bulrush and reedmace are both acceptable as common names for Typha latifolia. It belongs to the angiosperm or Magnoliophyta division of the plant kingdom (cf. gymnosperms) - in other words it produces seeds that are enclosed and contain endosperm (food for the developing seedling). It is a monocotyledon (cf. dicotyledon) which means when the seed develops the shoot only has one leaf. Finally, it is in the order Poales, which contains all the grasses, sedges and bromeliads.
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