Literature, Poetry, Art
It would be difficult to image the poetry, art and literature of Britain in the absence of its wild plants. The works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Burns, John Clare, D H Lawrence, Hugh McDiarmid, Edward Thomas, Norman McCaig would be diminished greatly without the richness of the wild plants that provide setting and landscape, the metaphors of human emotion and action, and the cultural background of their characters.
Shakespeare uses over 100 wild plants in his plays and poems and they are made to work as hard as his characters, representing love (roses, violets, pansies), luxury (eringoes, sea holly), good order of men and nature (cowslips, burnets, clover) and bad order or mismanagement (corncockle, thistles, docks). The flower wreaths of Ophelia and King Lear indicate their loss of reason and the song of the willows foreshadows Desdemona’s death in Othello. Wild plants have also been one of the central features of many of our most successful detective and historical writers such as Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters, who made liberal use of their poisonous qualities. Most recently J K Rowling has incorporated many elements of plant lore into her Harry Potter novels in the ingredients of potions and in the wand woods.
Similarly the art of Britain would be very different in the absence of wild plants. The borders of illuminated manuscripts are filled with wild plants, the tapestries and embroideries of the Medieval and Tudor periods are covered in flowers and trees imbued with meaning, and a range of flower symbolism is used throughout the paintings of the Renaissance. William Morris is perhaps one of our most famous and enduring designers and his fabrics are remarkable not only in their depictions of British wild plants, but in his use of vegetable dyes and also the range of influences from Medieval designs and techniques, to Oriental textiles and art, to the mythologies of Europe and the East. The work of Charles Rennie MacIntosh and the Glasgow artists (Margaret MacIntosh, Anne MacBeth, Jessie Newell) is particularly influenced by British wild plants. Of the many current artists who celebrate wild plants in their art, Angie Lewin is particularly noted for her prints and textiles of plants and their landscapes.
Please download our factsheets to find out more about wild plants in British art, poetry and literature.