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Although Pilosella aurantiaca (more commonly known as Fox-and-cubs) is a native of northern Europe, it must’ve been introduced to Britain a very long time ago as it gets a mention in Gerard’s 1633 Herbal. Gerard called it Grimme the Collier, which seems to me a most intriguing name.

170906 Grim the collier (2)

I’ve read speculation that the name may have been coined because the plant’s hairs resemble coal dust on a miner’s beard (really?) but there was also a play that originated in the early 1600s called Grim the Collier of Croydon and that was apparently based on a real-life character from the mid 16th century.

170906 Grim the collier (1)

It would seem more likely that the plant’s name relates to the person or the play but, in that case, I can’t help wondering: was Grim tall with a head of bright orange hair? Was Grim an invader from northern Europe? Were these particular flowers mentioned in the play? So many questions! If you can shed any light on the collier story, please do tell.

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