Lathyrus pratensis in Clarence’s book for children

The Children’s Picture Book of Wild Plants of 1908 is one of Clarence’s best illustrated albums, all of them bound in vellum (kid’s leather) and provided empty by his niece Margaret Berry. Clarence introduces it “This is a Children’s Picture-Book; the Babes who cannot read may look upon the right-hand Pages; while on the left who can will find much Lore and Learning of a Kind to suit maturer ages”. But the botanical descriptions and the plants names in Latin are absolutely not what a child would read.

The flower images are carefully designed and colour-coordinated. The Children’s Picture Book of Wild Plants features four plants in water-colour on the right, often with a frame of style and colours derived from the flower shown, and on the left a description of each plant. Clarence, in this and many of the albums, delighted in taking the colours and details of flowers as motifs for the frame and for decorative capital letters.

Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)… This lovely little flower is what’s often described as ‘scrambling’, meaning that it climbs gently up and over other plants around it for support. It’s a member of the pea family and its narrow green leaflets have tendrils at their tips to help them grab surrounding vegetation; it stems, are angular in cross-section, can sometimes reach over a metre tall in hedgerows. Clusters of between 5 and 12 flowers are produced long, upright stems. They’re pea-shaped and bright yellow, 15-18mm long and are followed by conspicuous black seed pods up to 35mm long. Found on fertile soils in all sorts of grassy places such as meadows, pastures, hedges, road verges and railway banks. In flower, from May to August. Small but strong shrub very common everywhere in hills up to 1500 m. high in full sun and calcareous soil. Easy to spot because of its lively yellow inflorescence. Area of origin Caucasus. Height 20-90 cm, flower 10-17 mm. The origin of the name Lathirus? It comes from Greek lathyros passing through Latin meaning a plant from which could be extracted stimulant substance. The seeds could even cause neurological troubles.

Latin name : Lathyrus pratensis. Family: Fabaceae
French name : Gesse des prés
Italian name : Cicerchia dei prati or cicerchia gialla (In Italy Lathyrus has a different name in Tuscany; Erba galletta or peas of the meadow)

In Maritime Alps and Mercantour there are various species of Lathirus; a) in Valle Gesso (Maritime Alps) Lathirus laevigatus which is yellow like pratensis and Lathyrus sphaericus a small wild pink pea that likes warm climate and limestone soil and b) in the Roya Valley Lathyrus latifolius a wild pea with large pink flower.

Also on the same page in the Children’s Picture Book of Flowers:
Hypericum Richerii Vill.
Bupleurum Ranunculoires L.
Bupleurum Exaltatum M.P.

No.46 in our weekly series of Clarence Bicknell images