Saturday, October 21, 2017

Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd's "Flora of Middle-Earth"

Walter S. Judd is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology, University of Florida. Graham Judd holds an MFA in Printmaking, and received a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Printmakers at Highpoint Center for Printmaking.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
The forest gate is described as archlike, formed by two gigantic trees leaning against each other, and these trees are ‘strangled with ivy and hung with lichens’ and bear only a few old, damaged leaves. Here we see two distinctive characteristics of Usnea: first, its preference for sickly, dead, or dying trees that have fewer leaves and thus a more open canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the lichens; and, second, its characteristic epiphytic and hanging habit—that is, it almost always grows on trees or shrubs on which it forms a much-branched system of often pendulous, pale gray to yellowish branchlets (Figure 7.8). This growth form is so characteristic of Usnea, a fruticose lichen (i.e., one that has a branched, miniature, shrubby or treelike form), that the species of this genus are  called beard lichens (or old man’s beards) because their hanging branches look like a graying beard. These common names are alluded to by Tolkien elsewhere, as when Merry and Pippin entered Fangorn forest (Figure 7.8) and saw ‘great trailing beards of lichen hung from’ huge branches (LotR 3: III), and Pippin, picking up on the feeling of the forest, exclaimed—‘Look at all those weeping, trailing, beards and whiskers of lichen!’ (LotR 3: IV). These descriptions perfectly match the appearance of many species of Usnea, which are widespread and diverse in Europe (with more than 30 species occurring there) and thus would have been very familiar to Tolkien. Usnea seems to have been as common in Middle-earth, and it adds to our mental image of—and gives a certain foreboding quality to—the great forests of Mirkwood and Fangorn. This expectation of evil is expressed most clearly in the very similar description of the forest gateway where the orc trail from Thangorodrim entered Taur-nu-Fuin: the Forest-Beneath-Night, so named because it was filled with terror and dark enchantment by Morgoth. We read in The Lay of the Children of Húrin that Beleg and Gwindor saw

[A]n archway opened.        By ancient trunks

It was framed darkly,        that in far-off days

The lightning felled,         now leaning gaunt

Their lichen-leprous        limbs uprooted. (Lays I: lines 936-939)

Again, we see the image of ancient dead trees covered with beard lichens. Their presence is described as ‘leprous’ because of their gray-green to yellow-green color, but this term is also appropriate given that Taur-nu-Fuin itself is diseased and distorted by the evil actions of Morgoth. This forest, located in Dorthonion north of Beleriand in the First Age, was much more perilous than either Fangorn or Mirkwood. Yet it was here that Beleg found Gwindor and rescued Túrin (see SILM 21).
This book is a flora, and like any flora it documents the plants occurring in the geographical area of concern—in this case J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. For each of the 141 genera and/or plant species mentioned in Tolkien’s major writings, we include (1) the common and scientific names, along with an indication of the family to which the plant belongs; (2) a brief quote from one of Tolkien’s works in which the plant is referenced; (3) a discussion of the significance of the plant in the context of Tolkien’s legendarium [part of which is quoted above, for Beard Lichens]; (4)  the etymology, relating to both the English common name and the Latin scientific names, and, where relevant, the name in one or more of the languages of Middle-earth; (5) a brief description of the plant’s geographical distribution and ecology; (6) its economic importance; and (7) a morphological description. Most of these are also provided with a woodcut-style illustration (as an aid to identification), along with an inset illustrating one of the events in the history of Middle-earth in which the plant played a role. Tolkien was clear that his Middle-earth is to be viewed as our own world, and his writings, therefore, are meant to reconnect us to important elements of our internal and cultural landscape and also to impact how we interact with other individuals and with the world in which we live—including the landscapes of our natural environment—including plants!  The plants within Tolkien’s legendarium are actually part of the story, showing numerous connections with humans, elves, and hobbits in the myths and history of Middle-earth. We hope that our detailed treatment of these plants will create a visual reference, and legitimacy, for both the plants growing in our forests, meadows, and marshes, as well as those that we have received as gifts from Tolkien’s imagination. Finally, Tolkien viewed the light of the Two Trees of Valinor as “the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically … and imaginatively” – following his guidance, we attempt in our book to integrate both botanical science and artistic imagination
Learn more about Flora of Middle-Earth at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue