In connection with reading Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, I dug out my dusty copy of Glasgow Observed, edited by Simon Berry‎ and Hamish Whyte, which is a useful collection of snippets of city descriptions from the late 18th century to the late 20th. Under 1782 there is an excerpt introduced thus: “An anonymous manuscript journal in French of a tour in Scotland is now thought to be by the French naturalist Pierre Auguste Broussonet (1761-1807).” Here’s the relevant bit:

Tuesday 11th. I went to the college and handed in a letter to Professor Anderson who showed me the library etc. He has a very nice collection of machines, among which I saw a pneumatic machine used by Newton. He has a machine which collects water on his roof which flows down a tube into his room. On the menu planche he has a thermometer, barometer and wind indicator. I gave a letter to Dr Stevenson who is one of the leading practitioners here, the brother-in-law of Dr Hope, another to Dr Hamilton teacher of anatomy who is a young man—I saw Dr Irvine, teacher of Chemistry. They collect the lichen omphabrily and rupertris here and by a secret they colour especially curtains with it, which have a lovely colour as of sorrel. This manufactory collects all the urine in the town and distils it in an alembic which contains more than 2000 gallons. It is reduced to powder, which is used for printed calico. […]

Journal of a Frenchman (unpublished manuscript in The Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Translation by Norman Bett).

Naturally my attention was caught by the italicized words (thus in the original). I’m fairly confident rupertris is an error for rupestris; compare, from Gardener’s Monthly and Horticultural Advertiser (Vol. 29, 1887, p. 30):

A correspondent kindly notes that in the article on “Abelia rupertris” at p. 323, there is a typographical error, rupestris having been three times repeated rupertris.

But Google Books can find omphabrily only here; any guesses as to what it might be? (Note that it could be an error on the part of the original writer, the translator, or the printer.)


  1. Omphalo- something, I guess?

  2. Omphalina umbellifera possibly?

    “ Lichenomphalia umbellifera, also known as the lichen agaric or the green-pea mushroom lichen,[2][3] is a species of basidiolichen in the family Hygrophoraceae. L. umbellifera forms a symbiotic relationship with unicellular algae in the genus Coccomyxa.[2][4] It is regarded as nonpoisonous.[5]”. source: Wikipedia

  3. That species is from western North America (unknown in Europe at the time), not Scotland. Also the <b> looks like a misreading of <lo>.

  4. Maybe a corruption of Lichenomphalia umbellifera a.k.a. Omphalia umbellifera? This page says it’s “common in Scotland”.

    (ETA: pipped at the post by cuchuflete.)

  5. Also the <b> looks like a misreading of <lo>.

    Excellent observation!

  6. Patrick Linehan says

    It sounds as though he is referring to Parmelia omphalodes, which is described in Lichens for Vegetable Dying, Bolton, E. M. 1991. McMinnville, Oregon, Robin & Russ Handweavers:

    Cen du-y-cerrig (Wales), Black Crottle, Cork Corker, Crostil (High-
    lands), Arcel (Ireland), Alaforel leaf (Sweden).
    Plant foliaceous, usually wide-spreading, consisting of numerous
    narrow, smooth, shining and dark brown or purplish black lobes,
    crowded and overlapping; at the circumference of plant the lobes
    adhere more closely and are greener; whole plant forms flattish pads
    or cushions, usually spreading over boulders with the aid of moss;
    plant much lighter and greener when wet; lobes narrow, clean-cut,
    incised, square-cut at extremities, with an incision; upper surface
    with a network of fine ridges and depressions (reticulate) much less
    marked than on P. saxatilis, and more diffuse, the white ridges
    cracked open, giving speckled appearance to lobes; never has out-
    growths, either isidia or soredia; underside very black with dense
    black hairs right out to extremities of the lobes; fruits infrequent,
    when present numerous, up to ¾-in. across, many may join up; discs
    red-brown, rims thin, lightish and speckled and inflexed.
    Found on rocks and boulders in maritime, upland and mountainous
    See PLATE Il and IV and details on PLATE I
    Probably to be found in the same areas as most Parmelias, but at
    higher altitudes.
    The lichen seems to grow best from about 800 ft. and upwards,
    where, with the aid of a little moss, it will spread and cover large
    boulders with peaty pads, or cushions of dark brown. Towards the
    centre of older plants, layer after layer will have been built up, the
    new surface lobes being very small and closely packed.
    This plant was always considered to be a variety of Par. saxatilis,
    which it resembles in the way in which the lobes are incised and
    square-cut, and to a lesser degree in the surface texture (reticula-
    tions). The fruits on omphalodes are much larger and more red-
    brown, but when it is moist, it can be almost as light in colour
    as saxatilis.
    Omphalodes gives a rich red brown to boiling water, and is one
    of the fastest dyes known. It imparts a lovely and permanent aroma
    to the wool when used fresh and, together with saxatilis, was one
    of the chief Crottles of the Highlands. Both these lichens are said
    to yield a red and purple dye.
    It is interesting to note that even today Mexicans, when using
    chemical dyes, put a very fragrant powder into their dye-vats.

  7. Trond Engen says

    I believe in omphalo-. I gather that Norw. navlelav is a traditional source of scarlet dye.

    Edit: Navlelav is Umbilicaria. Lichenomphalia is ‘navlesopp’, so named as a mushroom, not a lichen. Parmelia omphalodes seems not to be known, but Parmelia saxatilis is ‘grå fargelav’ “Grey dye-lichen”.

  8. It sounds as though he is referring to Parmelia omphalodes, which is described in Lichens for Vegetable Dying

    It does indeed — thanks for digging that up!

  9. Philip Schnell says

    I suspect “omphabrily” here is just a transcription error for “omphalina,” and not too surprising considering the the text was transcribed from a handwritten manuscript.

    (Omphalina umbellifera could be a plausible garbling in another context, but that nomenclature doesn’t first appear until more than 100 years after the date of the manuscript. The genus Lichenomphalia is an even more recent coinage, dating only to 2002.)

  10. @Patrick Linehan: indeed, Linnaeus calls it “omphalodes”, in the link from the WP article, so it would be a name familiar to Broussonet.

  11. Patrick Linehan says

    …and Abelia rupestris is an evergreen shrub not used for dyes, but there is (if you stretch the error) Evernia prunastri, in the same book:

    EVERNIA PRUNASTRI (L) Ach. (prunus, a plum tree.)
    The Stag’s Horn or Ragged Hoary Lichen.
    Plant in transition between a foliaceous and a shrubby or fruticose
    form. Grows from a basal sheath, in part erect or pendulous, flabby
    and soft when wet, consisting of unevenly strap-shaped fronds, con-
    tinually branching and narrowing, the axils of fronds smooth, oval
    and wide. The upper side yellowish-green-grey, slightly convex, with
    depressions bounded by long taut ridges, which often have pale
    granules, (soredia), underside slightly channelled, pure white, with
    upper surface in reverse; fruits rare, usually projected along upper
    side of margins, sometimes on face of plant, on short, stout pedicles,
    rims continuous with pedicles, thin, discs dark brown.
    Found on trees, twigs, wooden pales, bushes and in orchards.


    PLATE III and details on PLATE I.
    Most likely to be found in the temperate forest areas.
    This lichen becomes very lively after rain, and is not at all unlike
    the antlers of a stag.
    The fronds begin by growing out straight from the bark and
    then they become pendulous, fresh ones forming above and in turn
    drooping, until a tuft or cushion is formed. On some old plants
    the powdery granules (soredia) have germinated into numerous little
    fronds, and these older plants are usually much more wrinkled
    and distorted.
    This lichen can sometimes strike new growths from the tips of
    the fronds, either on bark or on another plant such as a Ramalina.
    Prunastri will encircle the black twigs of the wild plum with lace-
    like ruffs or collars, and the pink buds opening above can look de-
    lightful. It will clothe the weather side of trees with a shaggy coating.
    This plant can be distinguished from the rather similar Ramalinas
    by the pure white underside, and the smooth oval axils, where the
    fronds branch out. As the Ramalinas often grow with prunastri, the
    two plants can be confusing.
    A handful of freshly gathered moist plants of prunastri have a
    strong smell, similar to chloride of lime. It was used at one time
    for the gum it yields, and in Egypt for flavouring bread.
    Prunastri gives a deep plum colour with ammonia on wool.

  12. Linnaeus’s source was Sébastien Vaillant’s 1722 Botanicon parisiense, even more apposite here.

  13. Gicaomo Ponzetto says

    French naturalists (who may no longer be called that) still write about les omphaloïdes, which seems even easier than omphalodes to misread as omphabrily.

  14. Philip Schnell says

    @Patrick Linnehan:

    You’re right, Lichen omphalodes seems like a more likely origin for the transcription error.

    Similarly, “rupertris” is likely referring to the lichen currently known as Problastenia rupestris, which is common in the British Isles and at the time was known as Lichen rupestris [1772]. (Abelia rupertris is a flowering shrub, not a lichen, but I assume that citation was just to demonstrate the plausibility of the misreading.)

    (Apologies for the double post—I messed up my html tags and don’t seem to be able to delete the first version.)

  15. Guessing the misreadings as <b> for <lo>, <ri> for <d> (somehow), looped <l> for <e>, <y> for <ſ>.

  16. (Apologies for the double post—I messed up my html tags and don’t seem to be able to delete the first version.)

    Deleted with my magic powers!

  17. Perhaps b for lo, r for ï, il for d (with a wandering dot from ï), and y for es (written with a flourish).

  18. @Rodger: Much better.

  19. I have to say, I didn’t think there was much likelihood of a solution to a hapax from a translation of an unpublished manuscript — once again I underestimated the collective capabilities of the assembled Hatters.

  20. I was wondering if the color “as of sorrel” was that of a sorrel horse or the rather undistinguished green of Rumex acetosa, but Patrick Linnehan’s quote makes it clear that it is the horse.

  21. @CuConnacht: Actually, I would think that the color meant by sorrel is the intense color of the flowers. They are bright red, often tinged with purple. I personally associate the plant sorrel with its leaves—probably because of sorrel soup—but it follows a standard to name a hue after plant if its blossoms are that color. Daffodil means a bright shade of yellow, after all, not a slightly unsaturated green. Presumably, the association of reddish horse coats with the name sorrel also derives ultimately from the color of the sorrel flower.

  22. Actually, the color sorrel is etymologically unrelated to the plant. Both are via French, but the plant name is ultimately related to sour, while the color was also a color term in French.

  23. Valuable information, kt, neatly reminding us of the unrelatedness of sorry and sorrow.

  24. so: did the sorrel-Hibiscus that’s also known as flor de jamaica and roselle (no relation) get its name because its flowers are colored like those of sorrel-Rumex, while the sorrel-Oxalis got its for having a similar taste to sorrel-Rumex? or are they both named for the flavor?

    i like eating and drinking them all (i’ve only recently been introduced to gongura!), and grow an Oxalis for shchav* (i’m not certain which; one of the feral introduced ones as far as i can tell), but had never thought of the flowers as the connection, only the tartness.

    * and another one for decoration, which is sorrel in color, just to keep everything complicated.

  25. grow an Oxalis for shchav

    I’ve never heard of anyone growing Oxalis! I know it as something that grows everywhere by itself, unless checked by Sisyphean uprooting.

    I chew on an Oxalis stem occasionally for the refreshing sourness, but never had shchav. It must be tasty, but I admit I don’t understand how it’s possible to harmlessly eat soup full of oxalic acid.

  26. There are lots of types of oxalis. The ones I grew up with in the Pacific Northwest were an annual ground cover, with leaves like large clovers. However, there are also perennial shrub versions. My mother freaked out about me occasionally chewing oxalis leaves, because of the acid. Most of the men in my family have had kidney stones though, so maybe she was right that it was a bad move.

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