The Monk Weed
A Seasonal Prediction


Soon1 the3 monk6,8 weed11 will15 be in full16 bloom19.

1 i.e., early spring, the precise time being dependent on the geographical latitude.  Sightings as early as early February have been reported2.

2 J. Jones & C.G. Jones, The Alabama Flora Almanach, Vol. 62 (1951) 334.

3 Neutral gender.  In German: “das Mönchskraut.”  Also note the diminuitive form “das Mönchskräutchen4.”

4 Not to be confused with the trivial name for blackberry jam, still in use in certain villages in the Sauerland5.

5 lit. “sour country,” a region in the South of North Rhine Westphalia known for its harsh climate.

6 Named after the great English botanist Theodore B. Monk (1763 – 1837).  Many observers not aware of this connection have tried, in vain, to make out a monk’s habit or other Christian insignia7 in the shape of the flower.

7 just as the cross seen on certain spiders’ backs. 

8  An alternative explanation9 regards “monk” in this name as a mutilated form of “monkey,” which in turn might be an embellished form of the word “key.”  Indeed, the German “Schlüsselblume” (lit. “key flower”) is closely related to the monk weed.  In some areas of Bavaria, both terms, “Schlüsselblume” and “Mönchskraut3” are used interchangedly for an altogether unrelated plant10 with some superficial similarity to the monk weed proper.

9 L. Hoszensack, “Kräuternamen im Volksmund,” Deutscher Wald und Flur 3 (1937) 112.

10 Lonifera verbosa.

11 The term ‘weed’ is “… traditionally used to designate plants that compete with, interfere with, suffocate, dwarf, molest, or otherwise inhibit the growth of man-made crops.12” But note that farmers in the Northeast, in defiance of this classification, started to grow monk weed for its beneficial effects in veterinary medicine13.

12 quoted from R.T. Palmer, The Enchanted Farmer, Green Seasons Press, Minneapolis, Minnesotra 1947.

13 The leaves of monk weed, according to the Second Unabridged Herbalist14, contains an etheric oil that prevents diarrhea and reduces asthma in cows.

14 The Second Unabridged Herbalist (eds. S. Blütenkrantz, K.L Knights, and M. Frey), Oxford University Press, Oxford, Kentucky 1968, pp. 455-481.

15 For the justification of a deterministic statement in this context, see H. Reifmüller, Kausalität Heute, Verlag Biedermeier & Bocksdorf, München 1954.

16 The bloom of the monk weed has captured the attention of many poets.  It has been described as “undescribable” by T.S. Longbottom:

Your velvet petals gasp at me

In waving motion, undescribably …17,18

17 T.S. Longbottom, from The Retired Shepherd’s Journey (1732), quoted from English Poetry of the Idyll, Lipson and Harriman’s Selected Poetry Series (eds. F. Stadelman and R. Wichshund), Vol. CXIV, Lipson and Harriman, Edinburgh 1973.

18 From this it seems a historic accident that the monk weed failed to gain a stature in Western religion comparable to that of the Lotus flower in the East.  

19 I am endebted to the Australian Linné Society for assistance in my research.  This work has been made possible by a generous grant from Mobil Oil.20 I am grateful for many bibliographical suggestions by colleagues.  Specifically, my attention was drawn to the Second Unabridged Herbalist by Dr. S. Blutenkrantz whom I met on the occasion of the recent stockholders’ meeting of Dow Chemicals.

20 Mobil Oil stipulates, as part of the author’s grant contract, that the paper not be completed without the following statement: “This is not an advertisement of Mobil Oil or any subsidiary thereof.  Any statement to the contrary is null and void.  With the grant project, Mobil Oil shows its concern for the conservation of the environment and for research that aims at deepening our understanding of the ecological system on this planet.”