The exhibition Flora Orcadensis was held in August 2016 at Custom House, Kirkwall, Orkney, explored the 1914 book of the same name by Magnus Spence.It was a joint exhibition with Ingrid Budge.
Magnus Spence (1853-1919) is described as a teacher, meteorologist, botanist, geologist, antiquarian and zoologist. His book Flora Orcadensis published in 1914 was hailed as the first complete list of Orkney’s flora and his herbarium is held at Stromness Museum. We also turned to Tim Dean and Anne Bignall’s The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers published a century after Flora Orcadensis, and Margaret Flaw’s book Teeos and Tea-flooers to further their research
Fellow exhibitor Ingrid Budge looked at the wider list of Orkney’s wild flowers and I concentrated on the plants used in folk medicine.
Dandelion, high resolution scan, single edition printed on photo rag. Sold
‘A decoction of the roots was taken for stomach and liver affections; the flowers also were infused, and the sweetened infusion taken for colds.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘It is hard to believe that more than 230 micro-species of this one species have been identified in Britain…In Orkney 19 micro-species have been catalogued..two of these micro-species have been found nowhere else in the world, and one – Taraxacum orcadense – has even been named after our county, following its discovery in Mainland and on Cava.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
‘Dandelions once were widely used as a diuretic and for urinary disorders, hence the names Piss-a-bed and Pissimire. In addition it was regarded as a quinnine substitute and used to treat sore throats, chests and stomachs.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Curled dandelion, Papa Westray, Single edition digital photograph on photo rag. Sold
Reversed digital photograph on photorag, archival inks. Sold
Bog cotton (photographed in Rendall, Orkney)
Lucky Minnie’s oo (Orkney name)
‘The Great Exhibition of 1851 featured a number of items of clothing made from bog cotton down. These garments, woven by crofting women from Ross and Inverness-shire, were said to have been much admired for their beauty and fine texture.’ – Flora Celtica
‘In some parts of Scotland, tradition was that the bride knitted a pair of bedsocks from cottongrass wool which would be worn on her first married night. Another use for the fluffy heads was as wicks for candles. Among sheep farmers it had a high reputation as a spring tonic – sheep that had feebled by a long winter were turned out on to the moss where recovery was almost guaranteed after a few days of cropping cottongrass.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Digital photograph on museum paper. Framed in black wood. Print size 36cm x 53cm. £200.
‘It is the only truly wild plant in the county that is also a bulb; it is the bulb that no doubt accounts for its Manx name Sea onion.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Sea Pink, Ness. Digital photograph on photorag, archival inks. Sold
Sea pink / Thrift (photographed at Yesnaby)
Arby (Orkney name)
‘Its thick, tuberous roots, sliced and boiled with milk, were highly prized in Orkney as a remedy in pulmonary consumption.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
Macro photograph of Bellis perennis (Daisy) photographed in the garden of the late photographer Gunnie Moberg. Digital photograph on photorag, archival inks. Sold
Also in Magnus Spence’s 1914 list of medicinal Orkney plants…the daisy, known in Orkney as Cockalowrie or Mimmy feeblick. In fact daisy roots are part of the 17th Century Orkney miracle cure drink mentioned recorded by Dr Wallace.
‘Dr Wallace in 1700 says:-
The more common and general diseases are the Scurvy, Agues, Consumptions, &c. Commonly in the spring they (Orcadians) are troubled with an Augish Distemper which they call the Axes, but for this there are Quacks amongst them that pretend an infallible Cure by way of Diet-Drink, infusing a hotch potch of several plants (I suppose what are greenest at the time) in an English gallon of ale; the receipt is this:
They take of Buckhorn plantain, Water plantain, Lovage, wild Daisie, Rocket, roots of Elecampagne, Millefoil, roots of Spignell, Dandelyon, Parsley roots, Wormwood, Cumfrey, Tansey, Sea pink, Garden Angelica, and a kind of Masterwort, the imperatorie affinis; of all these they take a like quantity, to wit, about half a handful, and of this infusion they drink half a pint morning and evening. This is what they call Axes grass, and the old women talk wonders of it, pretending there are so many of the herbs good for the liver, so many for the head, and so many for the heart, spleen &c.’
Digital photograph on photorag. Framed in black wood. Print size 24cm x 36cm. £160.
‘In severe abrasions of the skin, the broad leaf was applied under the bandage to allay the immediate pain, and to prevent suppuration or blood-poisoning.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘In Orkney, it was believed that sheep that grazed on Sea Plantian would fatten more quickly and have improved quality of meat.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Photogram. Oak frame. Print size 30cm x 40cm. £180.
Sooracks or Soorick or Souricks
‘The leaves were chewed because of their pleasant acidity, and for mitigating thirst.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘Its juice can help remove marks from linen.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Silver gelatin print using the flower as a negative. Oak frame. Print size 40cm x 50cm. £180.
Arvo or Ervo
‘The leaves were bruised and were applied as poultices in cases of inflammation.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘The pith was extracted from these and used in the old oil lamp (cruisie) as a wick. This and conglomeratus were also cut and neatly tied up in baets for winding in the winter evenings and bands and fettles for caeseys, and other purposes.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
Photogram. 40cm x 50cm Unframed £150
Wild Iris / Yellow flag
‘The raw juice of this plant was used to cure toothache. The juice was sucked up the nose.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘Snuff made from its roots helped relieve colds.’ – Healing Threads, Mary Beith
Photogram. 40cm x 50cm Unframed £150
Trowie-girse or Trowie gliv
‘Strict injuctions were laid upon the goose-herd not to allow the goslings to eat of the flowers, for if they did partake, death soon followed, thus showing the poisonous nature of the plant.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘Foxgloves are powerful medicinal plants. They are extremely poisonous and the potent drug digitalis, which is used in disorders of the heart, is obtained from the leaves. It is a plant steeped in folklore – a perennial that is linked inextricably with fairies, goblins, witches and trows the length and breadth of Britain evidenced by the numerous names for different regions – Fairy bells, Fairy fingers, Fairy’s thimbles, Elves gloves, Witch’s thimble and, of course, the Orkney names Trowie girs and Trowie gliv.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
Photogram and silver gelatin print. 30cm x 40cm. Oak frame. £200.
‘The tender leaves were boiled, and, sauced with butter, were eaten with bere bread. They were also put as a vegetable in broth before the cabbage was ready. Utrica dioica and urens were used for rheumatism. A decoction was made from it, and drunk by the sufferer. It is said to have been often efficacious. Nettle ale was also made; and I believe there are some people still living who have partaken of it.’ – Magnus Spence, Flora Orcadensis
‘It is steeped in dark folklore. Its stings were a protection against sorcery and in western Scotland it was believed Nettles grew from the bodies of dead men and marked the dwelling place of elves and trows.’ – The Orkney Book of Wild Flowers
‘There was an old belief that the plant grew from dead men’s bones and, indeed, it flourishes on the refuse left by humans – especially after urinating. So far as I know, its use as a cure for insomnia was unique to the Highlands. For this, the nettle leaves were chopped very small and mixed with switched egg white. The mixture was then applied to the temples and forehead.’ – Healing Threads, Mary Beith