More on Tucker ‘Quite definitely Passiflora…’

Having at last come to read this paper by Tucker and Talbert, I am happy to see that there are points where I can agree with their findings. It’s always a pleasant thing in Voynich studies.

About the image on folio 23v they say that it is “Quite definitely Passiflora…” so far so good.

Unfortunately in trying to argue it one of the Americas’, they stumble a bit.

“The plant illustrated on folio 23v is definitely a Passiflora sp. of the subgenus Decaloba. This is primarily a New World genus (some species occur in Asia and Australia) and cannot be confused with any other genus. The paired petiolar glands in the upper third of the leaf, blue tints in the flower, and dentate (toothed) leaves that are deeply cordate (heart-shaped) seem to match only the variability of P. morifolia Mast. in Mart., although the artist has made the leaves slightly more orbicular (round) than they normally occur in mature foliage (young plants such as root suckers sometimes exhibit orbicular, entire leaves in cultivation).

In point of fact, as you can see here, most of the Eastern species also belong to Passiflora subgenus Decaloba and more exactly to Passiflora subgenus Decaloba supersection Disemma, section Octandranthus.

Among others of interest,  P. arbelaezii has nicely round leaves, and another having leaves of the same shape also has small spines about the edge.  That’s  P.foetida.

Since members of the Passiflorae developed in different regions all around the world, I do think it’s a little rich for Tucker and Talbert to claim that Passiflora belong ‘primarily’ to the Americas.

From China, we have the five-petalled P. cupiformis, and the recently revived P. kwangtungensis, and  P. henryi

Others are native to the Himalayas, to Nepal and Tibet.

And I think there’s not much disputing that folio 9v only shows narrow-leaved violas, which are the only type found east of Suez.  Similarly, the image on folio 4v shows only the narrow-leaved, bell-flowered type of blue Clematis, a flower exclusive to the far east.(one of my own identifications)

All in all, and although the flower on folio 23v may well be meant for one or more of the passionflowers, the likelihood is greater that, yet again, it’s one of the eastern species.

If you find more minutiae desirable, you’re in luck.  People at the (unfortunately-named) ‘Mobot‘ are fascinated by the subject.  Mobot isn’t some noxious internet virus, but the shortened name of a centre for botanical studies.

Roots, leaves and containers.

It’s fair to say that, these days, it is generally accepted that the botanical section and the  ‘roots and leaves’ section intersect, so that any proposal for plant identifications must be consistent in explaining the design features given the various types of container in the ‘roots and leaves’ section.

I must say it did take me a fair bit of time and effort to locate them,* so the contrast between that exhaustive and somewhat exhausting task and the freewheeling and carelessly hand-waving approach taken by T&T tends to grate somewhat.

* for which discussion see posts entitled  “In the vicinity”.

It seems to me that Talbert and Tucker, having fixed on their preferred conclusions somewhat in advance of gaining sufficiently balanced evidence for it,relied chiefly on their imagination and perhaps the odd wiki or two to fill in the obvious gaps.

(Note: in the passage from their paper reproduced below, ‘maiorica’ should probably read ‘majolica’ though no majolica I’ve ever seen resembles the containers in the Vms)

Evidently these authors have simply taken as read that old ‘majolica’ idea and with it the equally unproven notion that the containers are small  ‘pharmacy jars’, for  they write:

… other indications of the European influence on Post-Conquest Mexico are the so-called “maiorica” or pharmaceutical containers in the “Pharma pages.” The sharp edges, filigree, lack of painted decoration, and general design allude to inspiration by metal objects, not ceramic or glass.

(Majolica is a form of glazed pottery)

That error aside, here comes the vague handwaving, to cover the obvious fact that such container are unattested in Mexican culture. Their presence is attributed to imitation or ‘inspiration’.

The immediate suggestions for inspiration were the ciboria and oil stocks of 16th century Spanish Catholic church ceremonies. The former consists of a capped chalice, often on a highly ornamented stand, which stores the Eucharist. The latter [?oil stocks?!?] consists of a cylindrical case comprising three compartments that screw into each other and hold the holy oils. Using these holy objects as designs for pharmaceutical containers would have been a mockery of the religion forced upon the conquered natives and thus another reason for writing in code.* A ciborium also appears on folio 67r of the Codex Aubin.

* an aim which would be somewhat subverted, one would think, if these supposedly ‘mocking’ forms were perfectly obvious – D.

Allow me:

CIBORIUM …. In shape the ciborium resembles a chalice, but the cup or bowl is round rather than oblong, and provided with a conical cover surmounted by a cross or some other appropriate device…The material should be gold or silver (base metals are sometimes allowed), but the interior of the cup must be always lined with gold.

– Catholic Encyclopaedia.

Has anyone seen a lidded chalice in the Vms? with the lid surmounted by a cross? Any sign of a gold interior?  .. No, I thought not.

As for “oil stocks” – what type of container is that?

Perhaps they are thinking of the pyx, which is typically a small cylindrical box whose lid is attached with a hinge.

Or maybe they mean that stack of pyx-like containers used for carrying small quantities of oil (generally less than a quarter of a cup), to anoint the dying and so forth.  The reason they come in three is that there are three types of oil. You can see a set held by a priest in a mid-fifteenth century  painting by Rogier van der Weyden (1445).

Just how many roots and leaves, do you think, would fit in one of those? Again from the Catholic Encyclopaedia, which should know something about them:

These vases are designated as FLAGONS, AMPULLAE, ESTUY, and PHIALAE, and the cabinet containing them is known as the chrismatorium, chrismate, cresmeau, and coresmier. St. Charles Borromeo [1538–1584] drew up minute instructions concerning the vessels for the holy oils. He declared that each individual church should have two, either of silver or pewter, for each kind of oil, each vessel bearing the name of the oil contained therein. Almost the same rules are observed today. The vessels are usually cylindrical in form and fitted with screw tops marked with the letters: S. C. (sanctum chrisma); O.S. (oleum sanctum, oil of catechumens); O. I. (oleum infirmorum).

Here’s the stack of three as made today. Here’s one in antique sterling silver. None are coloured with red pigment.

No, let’s be honest –  T&T haven’t a clue about the containers, not how to explain their form and details to suit their ‘Nahuatl-Spanish subverted’ scenario.


  1. According to me, the Voynich manuscript text itself is intentionally used a hoax aimed to engage readers in a fruitless search for the manuscript code as an example. deliberately scattered like puzzle Centuries of Nostradamus. I am in their search focused on the symbolic meaning of the illustration. Manuscript, specifically part Herb is, in my opinion, a compendium of knowledge about the evolution of life on Earth – from its cosmological aspect, by Human evolution (Darwin’s theory) to the Prehistory, History and Contemporary. In the following section, the author Herb encrypted all the important events of our world history with such precision that many a textbook of history might have envied accuracy. Not only that, the encrypted images manuscript also describes quite contemporary events as well as those that only we will see in the future! When it comes to pictures of other parts such as: Astronomy, or Biological, they all have their symbolic meaning.

    Anyone who thinks that the Voynich manuscript is illustrations of plants and herbs, is in error. After what the author Manuscript asked himself so much effort and expose himself to such an expensive book if it would be just plain herbarium? OK. if it is just plain herbarium, why have you for so many years, and many other researchers are engaged in such a trivial topic?


  2. I don’t think it’s a Latin style herbal, and it can’t be an herbarium; the plants are not pressed and then fixed into the pages. I have spent time on this manuscript because I am interested to learn how a number of its images had managed to survive into the early fifteenth century; they are remarkably faithful to ancient precedents.


  3. I should also have said in this post that Passifora have tendrils and none are shown here.

    In fact, the way the trunk is drawn suggests an extremely strong tree, making curious its not showing the motif indicating that the tree (or group of plants) was used for timber.

    ~ I’m so tempted to suggest Backhousia myrtifolia here. It’s the cinnamon-scented “Ironbark”. But if I’m going to rule out the Americas, I can hardly allow a plant from Australia’s eastern coast, now can I?


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