, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 444–454 | Cite as

Written in trees

  • Tom WhiteEmail author
Original Article


The medieval horticultural manual the Godfridus super Palladium directs its readers in the art of grafting and maintaining trees. The text was translated from Latin into Middle English in the fourteenth century by Nicholas Bollard, whose own treatise on planting and grafting is found alongside the super Palladium in a number of surviving manuscripts. These works seek, at least in part, to codify past practices and accumulated knowledge, rendering a future that is predictable and productive. Yet both the super Palladium and Bollard’s Craft of Grafting and Planting are replete with micronarratives of nonhuman matter that connect them to a range of natural philosophical and literary traditions. Many of these directives are also scalable: initially specific to trees and plants, they also resonate with contemporary and modern philosophical debates on temporality, the potential transformations of matter, and the thresholds and limits of life.



With thanks to Vin Nardizzi and Rob Barrett for their invitation to contribute to this special issue and to Chris Law for his useful comments on critical plant studies.


  1. Bahr, A. 2015. Miscellaneity and Variance in the Medieval Manuscript Book. In The Medieval Manuscript Book: Cultural Approaches, eds. M. Johnston and M. van Dussen, 181–198. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Braekman, W.L. 1985. Bollard’s Middle English Book of Planting and Grafting and Its Background. Studia Neophilologica 57(1): 19–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bushnell, R. 2003. Green Desire: Imagining Early Modern English Gardens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Chaucer, G. 2008. A Treatise on the Astrolabe. In The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn., ed. L.D. Benson et al., 661–683. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, J.J. 2015. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooper, L.H. 2007. The Poetics of Practicality. In Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Middle English, ed. P. Strohm, 491–505. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Daston, L. and K. Park. 1998. Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  8. Gottfried von Franken. 1994. A Middle English Treatise on Horticulture: Godfridus super Palladium, ed. D.G. Cylkowski. In Popular and Practical Science of Medieval England, ed. L.M. Matheson, 301–330. East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press.Google Scholar
  9. Higgins, I. 1997. Writing East: The ‘Travels’ of Sir John Mandeville. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Marder, M. 2014. The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Marder, M. 2016. Grafts: Writings on Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Univocal.Google Scholar
  12. MED (Middle English Dictionary). 2013. Ann Arbor, MI: Regents of the University of Michigan.
  13. Mitchell, J.A. 2014. Becoming Human: The Matter of the Medieval Child. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Orlemanski, J. 2011. Physiognomy and Otiose Practicality. Exemplaria 23(2): 194–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Prendergast, T. 2013. Canon Formation. In A Handbook of Middle English Studies, ed. M. Turner, 239–52. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Robertson, K. 2010. Medieval Materialism: A Manifesto. Exemplaria 22(2): 99–118.Google Scholar
  17. Sandilands, C. 2017. Vegetate. In Veer Ecology, eds. J.J. Cohen and L. Duckert, 16–29. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Seymour, M., ed. 1963. The Bodley Version of Mandeville’s Travels. Early English Text Society, OS. 253. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Seymour, M. and G.M. Liegey, eds. 1987. On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus De proprietatibus rerum: A Critical Text. 3 vols. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  20. Sir Orfeo. 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays, ed. A. Laskaya and E. Salisbury. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Wakelin, D. 2007. Humanism, Reading and English Literature, 1430–1530. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of English Language and LiteratureUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations