Monday, August 11, 2008

The Jaguar Flower

This startling flower, Tigridia pavonia, has been known in the English-speaking world since at least the sixteenth century: there is a crude drawing of it in the Elizabethan edition of Gerard’s Herball. I would not be surprised to learn that Tigridia had been introduced to Europe long before that by the Spanish, but I can’t cite a source for an actual date of introduction.

In the English-speaking world the name Tigridia has traditionally been interpreted as having reference to tigers – and more than one merry commentator has noted that tigers have stripes, not the spots seen in these flowers. I think a more sensible interpretation takes into consideration the likelihood that the first descriptions in a European language were in Spanish, and in Spanish the jaguar is called El Tigre. And jaguars are spotted. That explains my choice of title for this post.

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