This book is a dictionary of British (native, naturalised and cultivated) plants and the folklore associated with them. Unlike many plant-lore publications Vickery’s Folk Flora tells us what people currently do and believe, rather than what Victorians did and believed. The result is a vivid demonstration that plant folklore in the British Isles is not only surviving but flourishing; adapting and evolving as time goes by, even in urban areas.
Each entry includes:
– The plant’s English and scientific (Latin) name, as well as significant local names.
– A brief description of the plant and its distribution, and, in the case of cultivated plants, a history of their introduction to the British Isles
– Information on the folklore and traditional uses of the plant, arranged where possible in a sequence starting with general folk beliefs (superstitions), use in traditional customs, use in folk medicine, other uses, and legends concerning individual representatives of the plant.
In addition to the major entries there are a number of minor entries for feast days, diseases and other subjects which direct readers to relevant major entries, e.g. St. George’s Day, on which red roses are worn; dandelions are gathered; and runner beans are planted.
Roy Vickery worked as a botanist at the Natural History Museum, London, from 1965-2007; he remains a Scientific Associate at the Museum. He has been collecting and writing about the folklore and traditional uses of plants for many years. He has served as chairman of Meetings Committee the Botanical Society of the British Isles (now Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland), and as a vice-president of the Society, has served on the committee of both the Folklore Society and the Society for Folk Life Studies, and is currently President of the South London Botanical Institute. He also writes on Quaker and green issues.
"The folklore of plants was a dead subject brought back to life first by Geoffrey Grigson’s evergreen The Englishman’s Flora (1955), and then by Richard Mabey’s best-selling Flora Britannica (1996). The present doorstep of a book by Roy Vickery, a botanist formerly at the Natural History Museum, makes it a trilogy, a varied and minutely detailed record of our informal relationship with plants, past and present. But this is a different kind of book from its two predecessors. It lacks the lyrical grace of Grigson and Mabey, in which each entry is in effect an essay. Instead, it is a tabulation that focuses on the ‘folk’, i.e. the communal stories and beliefs, as opposed to those of individuals. Vickery notes, modestly, that his tome is ‘by no means definitive’, and hopes that other folk floras will emerge, but he has been collecting material since the mid-1970s from more than 2,160 contributors. I suspect that it is about as definitive as we are going to get. Vickery’s approach is that of an archivist. He does not go in for much social analysis or context. [...] It would probably be disastrous to use this book to identify wild food, or even for useful information. It is more a record of what we used to believe, and to some extent still believe. It says at least as much about us as about plants and botany: in our stubborn insistencies, in our imaginative journeying and in the lore learned on mother’s lap. On this evidence we seem to be curious, practical, irrational, superstitious, cautious, humorous, providentially minded, occasionally fearful and sometimes bawdy. We seem to love symbols, search for meanings in nature, and let our imaginations run wild. Above all, we Brits and Irish have a gift for names. The common names of our wild flowers enrich the language, but Vickery sets out numberless alternatives, many of them still in use locally. Had fate been different, our waysides would be brightened by lady-lords, sampers, crannicks, penny-johns, bozzums and beltanefloers. This is a book for browsing. A lot of browsing. It is well set out, with two slim blocks of colour plates in the middle and a picture of the thickly bearded author gazing warily from the back flap. It is fully referenced with a 21-page bibliography and a 72-page plant-name index. It is £30 well spent."
– Peter Marren, British Wildlife 31(1), October 2019