By Alastair Culham

This was the first Christmas Day #AdventBotany blog, published 25th December 2014, and featured a specimen curated by one of the many botanical alumni of The University of Reading, Dr Andrew Doran.

There is a current conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, an event that was last this close some 800 years ago. There is a possibility that the combination of these two planets is what was interpreted as the Star of Bethlehem seen by the Magi in the biblical story of the nativity.

The magi

multicoloured oil painting of robed figures
Oil painting by Edward Burne-Jones, Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem guided the Magi from the east to the stable in which Jesus lay.  This classic part of the Christmas story has given rise to the star on the tops of Christmas trees but also to much astronomical debate on what the star actually was.  For a longer discussion of the various theories try the whychristmas web pages.  Ideas for the nature of the star vary from a comet, through the conjunction of planet Earth with Jupiter and Saturn to a Super Nova.

The plant

White flowers against green leaves
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

However the story today is not about that Star of Bethlehem or even that God.  It starts with an email from me, the Curator of RNG, the University of Reading Herbarium to one of our MSc Plant Diversity graduates, Andrew Doran, now Assistant Director for Collections, University & Jepson Herbaria, University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A.. Andrew is an alumnus of the University of Reading, but he is also an alumnus of Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey.  Charterhouse School has a herbarium which Andrew has in safe keeping and is gradually digitising.  The collection is of real historical and botanical interest but perhaps is most notable for its acronym.  Every recognized herbarium has an acronym and they are listed in Index Herbariorum, maintained at New York Botanical Garden.  Ours is RNG, while just down the road Kew has K and the Natural History Museum has BM.  The special thing about Charterhouse is a byproduct of it’s home town, Godalming; Charterhouse Herbarium has the acronym GOD.

GOD is in California

herbarium specimen of narrow leaves, a few small flowers and a colour chart and label.
The Star of Bethlehem in GOD at UC.

Among the specimens of GOD is one of Ornithogalum umbellatum, it is specimen GOD1000 and you can see it in the illustration here, or in more detail via the e-loan link. So here, really is, the Star of Bethlehem from GOD. A diminutive white flowered bulbous plant widely grown in gardens and native to southern and central Europe.

Happy Christmas!

Share this: