Leuce (1)

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Leuce Plinius mercuriali similis nomen ex causa accepit per medium folium candida linea transcurrente quare mesoleucon quidam vocant.


mercuriali (mer- fp) ABC fp | marcuriali e

trãscurrente (-currẽte A) AC | trãscurẽte B | tñscurrente ep | transcurte f

mesoleucon (-cõ A) AC | meseleucon ep | meseleucũ B | meseuleucon f

quidam | quod (quod A) AC | {quod and quidam can have very similar abbreviations}, cf. Cappelli p. 306}.


Leuce, says Pliny, is similar to mercurialis {the plant "mercury", see Mercurialis}, and it has got this name because there is a white line running along the middle of the leaf, which is why some people also call it mesoleucon.


The text is a near-verbatim quote from Pliny, 37, 77, 102, ed. Rackham (1938-63: VII.450)

Greek λευκή /leukḗ/ {sc. βοτάνη /botánē/ "plant"} is the feminine form of the adjective meaning "white". Pliny himself explains the naming motive for the plant. The word was adopted into Latin as leuce.

The name mesoleucon is only attested in Pliny. It is obviously of Greek origin < *μεσόλευκον /mesóleukon/, it is a compound of μεσο- /meso-/ {"mid, middle, in the middle"} + λευκον /leukon/ "white", lit. "white in the middle".

Further on in the chapter Pliny adds that leuce might be the same plant as leucas, a name also mentioned in Dioscorides as λευκάϛ /leukás/, which is also a derivative of the root λευκ- /leuk-/ "white" (cf. 3, 99, ed. Wellmann 1906-14: II,111); Dioscorides Longobardus, 3, 109, ed. Stadler (1899: 423-4) (De leuca). The Longobardic translation text is quoted by Simon in entry Leuce (2), q.v. It is possible that Leuce (1) and Leuce (1) where originally a single entry that was later split up into two.

Botanical identification:

Naturally an adjective like "white" could describe a conspicuous feature in a large number of plants, and consequently one finds the name used for several different plants. All this makes identification difficult.

Both authors, Pliny and Dioscorides, say that there is a cultivated and a wild variety with the latter having broader leaves. In addition the Dioscoridean text speaks of a flos purpureus "a purple flower".

The following plants have a Southern European, if not pan-European distribution and mostly a reddish flower. André (1985) cautiously suggests Lamium album L. the "white deadnettle" [[1]], but its leaves have no white stripe in the middle and its flower is white.

Berendes (1902: 331) mentions that Sprengel [[2]] suggested Lamium maculatum L. the "spotted deadnettle" [[3]], [[4]], whose leaves are often white-blotched and its flowers are rosy-purple, very rarely white.

Furthermore Berendes (1902) mentions Fraas [[5]], who saw in the wild {"mountain"} form the plant Lamium striatum Sm. (n.b. more recently classed as Lamium garganicum subsp. striatum (Sm.) Hayek) the "large red deadnettle", see book page 185 [6]], its flower is white to pink.

Berendes op.cit. expects that both authors, Pliny and Dioscorides, excerpted from the same source, which was even then already corrupted and offered very little descriptive information on the plant. The identification of Leuce (1) must therefore remain to some degree uncertain, but a Lamium species seems likely.

WilfGunther 18:19, 1 December 2014 (UTC)

See also: Leuce (2)

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