Field of Science

Classic Italian botany

Here’s some historical Italian botany; an illustration by Jacopo Ligozzi on display in the Palazzo Pitti and photographed without flash in keeping with museum policy.  Always impressed by how well this camera does in low light conditions. The interesting thing is that this lovely illustration (ca. 1577-1567) of mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis – Nightshade family) is pretty accurate (flowers aren't quite right) while illustrations of an earlier era portrayed this famous toxic plant  anthropomorphically and very inaccurately. (Does anyone remember Mandrake the Magician comics?) This illustration has held up very well for 400 plus years. Ligozzi was about 20 years earlier than Gerard’s famous herbal, which also had fairly accurate (although sometimes mislabeled) illustrations.  According to legend, and as portrayed in Harry Potter, a mandrake it could scream so loud it could kill you if you pulled it up, even if to repot it.  Here the taproots, often branched, look like roots rather than arms and/or legs. 


Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember Mandrake the Magician - and I also remember many fanciful illustrations of the plant. Wasn't it wonderful when one could determine the qualities and usages of a plant by the forms of its various parts? (On the other hand, why not Liverleaf or Lungwort when so much of what passed for medical care was life threatening?)

I've been enjoying your posts from Italy, food wine and botany what's not to like? Oh yes. The roads. The traffic. And I thought Maine was bad.

The Phytophactor said...

Liverleaf and lungwort and bloodroot and many more plants got their names for their supposed medicinal value based on resemblance to human body parts. Here's another blog from back a few years about the "doctrine of signatures" with is what the idea was called.

Anonymous said...


the flowering of the Mandrake is the first sign of autumn here in southern Portugal - flowering in late October / early November after the first rains since early summer.

i love to see it.

Certainly a better image than anything that i could manage - by several orders of magnitude!

thanks for posting