Dove's Dung

It is fascinating to study the common names of the wildflowers. This lovely lily (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is commonly known as the Star-of-Bethlehem. It's other common names are Summer Snowflake, Star Flower, Nap at Noon, Eleven o'clock Lady, Sleepy Dick, and Dove's Dung. It's scientific name of Ornithogalum is a Greek word meaning 'Bird's milk'- a reference thought to be to the shade of white for many flowers in the Ornithogalum family. A rich history can be found in these common names.

It is thought that this flower's common name of Dove's Dung is referenced by the King James version of the Bible in II Kings 6:25- And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver. The theory that this flower was the dove's dung mentioned can be found in the book The plants of the Bible, trees and shrubs by John Hutton Balfour (1885). The author states that perhaps literally dove's dung was eaten (what I personally believe) or that it might have meant this plant- which he states grew abundantly in Samaria. Another biblical scholar mentions the same allusion to dove's dung perhaps referring to this flower- but they tended to believe that dove's dung should be interpreted literally: "Different opinions, however, have been entertained respecting the meaning of the words which are the subject of this article, namely, whether they should be taken literally, or as a figurative name of some vegetable substance. The strongest point in favor of the former view is that all ancient Jewish writers have understood the term literally, and generally as an article of food. That this interpretation is not forced appears from similar passages in Josephus (War, v, 13, 7): "Some persons were driven to such terrible distress as to search the common sewers and old dunghills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there, and what they of old could not endure so much as to look upon they now used for food ;" (source)

This wildflower is also listed as one of the "floral clock" flowers because of it's punctuality at opening it's blossom around 11:00 am each morning- thus- an explanation for another of it's common names: 11 o'clock lady. It is reported that Linneaus constructed a table of flowers that could be used as a floral clock. The following is a table constructed by the French scientist De Candolle of the opening times of certain flower blossoms:
Text not available
The Horticulturist, and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste By Luther Tucker

The cooked root of the Star-of-Bethlehem is reported to be edible but the plant has been known to be poisonous to grazing animals.


Mungo said...

Very interesting - just came across your blog - some great photos in it!



Sandpiper said...

Beautiful flowers and an interesting history!!

Steve said...

It has been my experience that some bird dung contains undigested seeds. I believe dove's eat seeds, though a quick google search would let me know but I am too busy and/or lazy to look right now . Regardless, dove's were also used in sacrifice and maybe the refuge from their pens would yeild some grains. In time of famine a desperate person will do anything. Thus a literal translation could be accepted. Heck people are drinking coffee from beans that have been through some wild cats and monkeies intestines and they are not desparate!

me and my camera said...

This is a fascinating post as I am always in search of wildflowers at this time of year, tho in our more northern region not many are in bloom yet. I at first confused this wildflower with an Amrican Starflower but did a bit of research and found a difference in the leaf structure of them. I don't believe we have Star-of-Bethlehem here. However I now have a quest to check this species out when Starflowers bloom in my area - which is which? The names are all so fascinating. I wonder if the names, 'Nap-at-Noon' and 'Sleepy Dick', have to do with the flower only opening in sunshine, or is it only a morning bloom? Its french name, Dame-des-Onze-Heures, also suggests a timing factor. I enjoyed this post very much.

April said...

Such a pretty little flower, and you've taken a wonderful photo of it. I like the names Star Flower and Eleven O'Clock Lady. I found the history interesting as well. :)