Phytomorph and Geomorph Identification

  • Arthur O. TuckerEmail author
  • Jules Janick
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


The Voynich Codex is largely an herbal with an estimated 359 illustrations of plants (phytomorphs) in the Herbal and Pharmaceutical sections. In 1944, the distinguished botanical taxonomist Hugh O’Neill identified New World plants in the Voynich Codex, including the sunflower and capsicum pepper. In 2013, Arthur O. Tucker and Rexford H. Talbert identified 37 plants indigenous to colonial New Spain. Later, in 2016, Tucker and Jules Janick expanded this to 58 phytomorphs and 55 species. Identifications here include 60 phytomorphs and 57 species, all indigenous to colonial New Spain or circumboreal. No European plants have been identified. Many were medicinal plants. The geomorph boleite was identified. Although boleite was found in many locations, the only examples of crystals of this quality were primarily from Baja California. We conclude that the Voynich Codex must be a post-Columbian manuscript written in colonial New Spain in the sixteenth century.


Boleite Capsicum pepper Geomorphs New World plants Phytomorphs Sunflower Taxonomy Voynich 

Literature Cited

  1. Alcántara Rojas, B. 2008. Nepapan Xochitl: The power of flowers in the works of Sahagún. In Colors between two worlds: The Florentine codex of Bernardino de Sahagún, ed. L.A. Waldman, 106–132. Florence: Villa I Tatti.Google Scholar
  2. Al-Shehbaz, I.A. 2012. Brassicaceae. In The Jepson manual. Vascular plants of California, ed. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Bosatti, and D.H. Wilken, 2nd ed., 512–577. Berkeley: University California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barlow, M. 1986. The Voynich manuscript—By Voynich? Cryptologia 10: 210–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bayer, R.J., A.L. Bogle, and D.M. Cherniawsky. 2006. Petasites. In Flora of North America North of Mexico, ed. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 635–637. Vol. 20. Magnoliophyta: Asteridae, Part 7: Asteraceae, Part 2. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Berg, C.C. 2001. Moreae, Artocarpeae, and Dorstenia (Moraceae). Flora Neotropica 83: 1–346.Google Scholar
  6. Blackman, B.K., M. Scascitelli, N.C. Kane, H.H. Luton, D.A. Rasmussen, R.A. Bye, D. Lentz, and L.H. Rieseberg. 2011. Sunflower domestication alleles support single domestication center in eastern North America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108: 14360–14365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bleiler, E.F., ed. 1976. Early floral engravings: All 110 plates from the 1612 “florilegium” by Emanuel Sweerts. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  8. Borschenius, F., L.S. Suárez Suárez, and L.M. Prince. 2012. Molecular phylogeny and redefined generic limits of Calathea (Marantaceae). Systematic Botany 37: 620–635.Google Scholar
  9. Bown, D. 1988. Aroids, plants of the arum family. Portland: Timber Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bye, R.A., and E. Linares. 2013. Códice de la Cruz-Badiano: Medicine préhispánica. Primera parte. Arqueología Mexicana 50: 7–91.Google Scholar
  11. Bye, R.A., E. Linares, and D.L. Lentz. 2009. México: Centro de origen de la domesticación del girasol. Tip Revista Especializada en Ciencias Quimico-Biológicas 12: 5–12.Google Scholar
  12. Camelo Arredondo, R., J. Gurría Lacroix, and C. Reyes Valerio. 1964. Juan Gerson, Tlacuilo de Tecamachalco. In Departamento de Monomuntos Coloniales. México: Instituto Nacional de Anthropolgia e Historia.Google Scholar
  13. Chaumeton, F.P. 1830. Flore médicale. Vol. 3. Paris: C.L.F. Panckoucke.Google Scholar
  14. Clausen, J., R.B. Channell, and U. Nur. 1964. Viola rafinesquii, the only Melanium violet native to North America. Rhodora 66: 32–46.Google Scholar
  15. Clayton, M., L. Guerrini, and A. de Avila. 2009. Flora: The Aztec herbal. London: Royal Collection Enterprises.Google Scholar
  16. Collins, M. 2000. Medieval herbals: The illustrative traditions. London: The British Library.Google Scholar
  17. Compton, J.A., A. Culham, and S.L. Jury. 1998. Reclassification of Actaea to include Cimicifuga and Souliea (Ranunculaceae): Phylogeny inferred from morphology, nrDNA ITS, and cpDNA trnL-F sequence variation. Taxon 47: 593–634.Google Scholar
  18. Cooper, M.A., and F.C. Hawthorne. 2000. Boleite: Resolution of the formula KPb26Ag9Cu24Cl62(OH)48. The Canadian Mineralogist 8: 801–808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Copper Development Association. 1971. Uses of copper compounds. CDA technical note TN11. Hemel Hempstead: Copper Development Association Scholar
  20. De Ávila Blomberg, A. 2012. Yerba del coyote, veneno del perro: La evidencia lexica para identificar plantas en el Códice de la Cruz Badiano. Acta Botánica Mexicana (100): 489–526.Google Scholar
  21. De Batres, L.D.P., C.A.B. Alfaro, and J. Ghaemghami. 2012. Mesoamerica aesthetics: Horticultural plants in hair and skin care. Chronica Horticulturae 50 (2): 12–15.Google Scholar
  22. De la Cruz, M., and J. Badianus. 1991. Libellus de medicinalibus indorum herbis. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.Google Scholar
  23. De Motolinia, T. 1951. Motolinia’s history of the Indians of new Spain. Trans. F.B. Steck. Washington, DC: Academy of American Franciscan History.Google Scholar
  24. De Sahagún B. 1963. Florentine Codex. General history of the things of New Spain. Book 11—Earthly things. Trans. C.E. Dibble and A.J.O. Anderson. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.Google Scholar
  25. Díaz, J.L. 1976. Índice y sinonimia de las plantas medicinales de MéxicoInstituto Mexicano para el Estudio de las Plantas, México.Google Scholar
  26. Dressler, R.L. 1953. The pre-Columbian cultivated plants of Mexico. Botanical Museum Leaflets 16: 115–172.Google Scholar
  27. Dunn, D.B., and W.E. Harmon. 1977. The Lupinus montanus complex of Mexico and Central America. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 64: 340–365.Google Scholar
  28. Eastaugh, N., V. Walsh, T. Chaplin, and R. Siddall. 2008. Pigment compendium: A dictionary and optical microscopy of historical pigments. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Emmart, E.W. 1940. The Badianus manuscript. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  30. Farfán, J.A.F., and J.G.R. Elferink. 2010. Ethnobotany and Aztec sexuality. Muenchen: Lincom Europa.Google Scholar
  31. Feller, R.L., ed. 1986. Artists’ pigments. A handbook of their history and characteristics. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.Google Scholar
  32. Fernald, M.L. 1938. Noteworthy plants of southeastern Virginia. Rhodora 40: 434–459.Google Scholar
  33. Finlay, V. 2014. The brilliant history of color in art. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.Google Scholar
  34. Friedman, E.S. 1962. ‘The most mysterious MS’ still an enigma. Washington Post 5 August: E1, E5.Google Scholar
  35. Gates, W. 2000. An Aztec herbal. New York: Dover Publication (First publ. Maya Society. 1939. Baltimore).Google Scholar
  36. Granziera, P. 2001. Concept of the garden in pre-Hispanic Mexico. Garden History 29: 185–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. ———. 2005. Huaxtepec: The sacred garden of an Aztec emperor. Landscape Research 30: 81–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gravier, M.G. 2011. Sahagún’s codex and book design in the indigenous context. In Colors between two worlds, ed. G. Wolf and J. Connors, 156–197. Milan: Florentine Codex of Bernardino de Sahagún. Officina Libraria.Google Scholar
  39. Hancock, J.F. 2012. Plant evolution and the origin of crop species. Wallingford: CABI.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Harter, A., K.A. Gardner, D. Falush, D.L. Lentz, R.A. Bye, and L.H. Rieseberg. 2004. Origin of extant domesticated sunflowers in eastern North America. Nature 430: 201–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Heiser, C.B. 2008. How old is the sunflower in Mexico? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United states of America 105: E48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hernández, F. 1942. Historia de las Plantas de Nueva España. Ed. I. Ochoterena. Imprenta Universitaria. Mexico.Google Scholar
  43. Hernández, F., F. Celsi, F. Colonna, B. Deversini, J. Faber, J. Greuter, V. Mascardi, N. A. Recchi, and J. Terentius. 1651. Rerum medicatum Novae Hispaniae Thesarus, seu, Plantarum animalium mioneralium Mexicanorum historia. Vitalis Mascardi, Romae.Google Scholar
  44. Hough, W. 1908. The pulque of Mexico. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 33: 577–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Janick, J., and K.E. Hummer. 2012. The 1500th anniversary 512–2012 of the Juliana Anicia codex: An illustrated Diorcoridean recension. Chronica Horticulturae 52 (3): 9–156.Google Scholar
  46. Kennedy, G., and R. Churchill. 2006. The Voynich manuscript. Rochester: Inner Traditions.Google Scholar
  47. Killip, E.P. 1938. The American species of Passifloraceae. Fieldiana 19: 1–613.Google Scholar
  48. Lentz, D.L., M.D. Pohl, J.L. Alvarado, S. Tarighat, and R. Bye. 2008a. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) as a pre-Columbian domesticate in Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences United States of America 105: 6232–6237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lentz, D.L., M.D. Pohl, and R. Bye. 2008b. Reply to Rieseberg and Burke, Heiser, Brown, and Smith: Molecular, linguistic, and archaeological evidence for domesticated sunflower in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences of the United states of America 105: E59–E50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mali, P.Y., and S.S. Panchal. 2013. A review on phyto-pharmacological potentials of Euphorbia thymifolia L. Ancient Science Life 32: 165–172.Google Scholar
  51. Mallard, E., and E. Cumenge. 1891. Sur une nouvelle espèce minérale, la Boléite. Bulletin de la Societe Francaise de Mineralogie et de Cristallographie 14: 283–293.Google Scholar
  52. Mathias, M.E., L. Constance. 1941. A synopsis of North American species of Eryngium. The American Midland Naturalist 24: 361–387.Google Scholar
  53. McPherson, G. 1981. Studies in Ipomoea (Convolvulaceae) I. The Arborescens group. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 68: 527–545.Google Scholar
  54. Meira, M., E.P. da Silva, J.M. David, and J.P. David. 2012. Review of the genus Ipomoea: Traditional uses, chemistry and biological activities. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia 22: 682–713.Google Scholar
  55. Meyer, F.C. 1951. Valeriana in North America and the West Indies (Valerianaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 38: 377–503.Google Scholar
  56. Mickel, J.T., and A.R. Smith. 2004. The pteridophytes of Mexico. Garden: New York Bot.Google Scholar
  57. Millspaugh, C.F. 1892. American medicinal plants. Philadelphia: J.C. Yorston & Co.Google Scholar
  58. Moody, M.L., and L.H. Rieseberg. 2012. Sorting through the chaff, nDNA gene trees for phylogenetic inference and hybrid identification of annual sunflowers (Helianthus sect. Helianthus). Molecular Phylogenetics Evolution 64: 145–155.Google Scholar
  59. Morrill, P.C. 2014. The casa del Deán: New World imagery in a sixteenth century Mexican mural cycle. Austin: University Texas Press.Google Scholar
  60. Morton, J.K. 2005. Silene. In Flora of North America, ed. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 168–216. Vol. 5. Magnoliophyta: Caryophyllidae, part 2. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Mottana, A., R. Crespi, and G. Liboro. 1978. In Guide to rocks and minerals, ed. M. Prinz, G. Harlow, and J. Peters. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  62. Navarrete, A., D. Niño, B. Reyes, C. Sixtos, E. Aguirre, and E. Estrada. 1990. On the hypocholesteremic effect of Eryngium heterophyllum. Fitoterapia 61: 183–184.Google Scholar
  63. Nieland, LaShara, and Willa Finley. 2009. Lone Star Wildflowers, 164–165. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Nutttall, Z. 1925. The gardens of ancient Mexico. Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 1923: 453–464.Google Scholar
  65. O’Neill, H.T. 1940. The sedges of the Yucatan peninsula. Carnegie Institute Washington Publication 522: 247–322.Google Scholar
  66. O’Neill, H. 1944. Botanical observations on the Voynich MS. Speculum 19: 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ocaranza, F. 2011. Historia de la medicina en México. 2nd ed. Cauhtémoc: Cien de México.Google Scholar
  68. Park, M.S., and P.E. Elvander. 2012. Saxifragaceae. In The Jepson manual. Vascular plants of California, ed. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Bosatti, and D.H. Wilken, 2nd ed., 1234–1244. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  69. Pereda-Miranda, R., D. Rosas-Ramírez, and J. Castañeda-Gómez. 2010. Resin glycosides from the morning glory family. Fortschritte der Chemie Organischer Naturstoffe 92: 77–153.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Peterson, J.F. 1988. The Florentine codex imagery and the colonial tlacuilo. In The work of Bernardino de Sahagun, pioneer ethnographer of sixteenth-century Aztec Mexico, ed. J. Klor de Alva, H.B. Nicholson, and E. Quiñones Keber, 273–293. Austin: Univeristy of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  71. Plant List. 2013. Version 1.1.
  72. Prather, A. 1999. Systematics of Cobaea (Polemoniaceae). Systematic Botanical Monographs 57: 1–81.Google Scholar
  73. Ralph, J., and I. Chau. 2012. Boleite.
  74. Ramírez, J., and G.V. Alcocer. 1902. Sinonimia vulgar y científica de las plantas mexicanas. Mexico: Oficina Tipográfica de la Secretaría del Fomento.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Reko, B.P. 1947. Nombres bótanicos del manuscrito Badiano. Boletín de la Sociedad Botánica de México 5: 23–43.Google Scholar
  76. Richards, J.H., M. Dow, and T. Troxler. 2010. Modeling Nymphoides architecture: A morphological analysis of Nymphoides aquatica (Menyanthaceae). American Journal of Botany 97: 1761–1771.Google Scholar
  77. Rieseberg, L., and J.M. Burke. 2008. Molecular evidence and the origin of the domesticated sunflower. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: E46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Ross-Ibarra, J., and A. Molina-Cruz. 2002. The ethnobotany of chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius ssp. aconitifolius Breckon): A nutritious Maya vegetable. Economic Botany 56: 350–365.Google Scholar
  79. Ruiz-López, M.A., P.M. Garcia-López, R. Rodríguez, and J.F. Zamora Natera. 2010. Mexican wild lupines as a source of quinolizidine alkaloids of economic potential. Polibotánica 29: 159–164.Google Scholar
  80. Russell, N.H. 1965. Violets (Viola) of central and eastern United States: An introductory survey. Sida 2: 1–113.Google Scholar
  81. Sherwood, E., and E. Sherwood. 2008. The Voynich botanical plants. 26 July 2012.
  82. Shinners, L.H. 1961. Viola rafinesquii: Nomenclature and native status. Rhodora 63: 327–335.Google Scholar
  83. Stafleu, F. A., and R. S. Cowan. 1979. Taxonomic literature: A selective guide to botanical publications and collections, with dates, commentaries and types. Vol. 2, H-Le. Utrecht: Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema.Google Scholar
  84. Standley, P.C. 1914. A revision of the genus Cobaea. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 17: 448–458.Google Scholar
  85. ———. 1920–1926. Trees and shrubs of Mexico. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium 23: 1–1721.Google Scholar
  86. Standley, P.C., and L.O. Williams. 1973. Labiatae, mint family. In Flora of Guatemala, eds. P.C. Standley and L.O. Williams, Part IX, no. 3. Fieldiana 24: 237–317.Google Scholar
  87. Taiz, L., and S.L. Taiz. 2011. The biological section of the Voynich manuscript: A textbook of medieval plant physiology. Chronica Horticulturae 51 (2): 9–23.Google Scholar
  88. Tucker, A.O., and R.H. Talbert. 2013. A preliminary analysis of the botany, zoology, and mineralogy of the Voynich manuscript. HerbalGram 100: 70–85.Google Scholar
  89. Tucker, A.O., and J. Janick. 2016. Identification of phytomorphs in the Voynich codex. Horticultural Reviews 44: 1–64.Google Scholar
  90. Tucker, A.O., M.E. Poston, and H.H. Iltis. 1989. History of the LCU herbarium, 1895–1986. Taxon 38: 196–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. USDA, ARS. 2015. National Genetics Resources Program. Germplasm resources information network – GRIN [online database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland.
  92. Velinska, E. 2013. The Voynich Manuscript: Plant id list. 5 June 2017.
  93. Zepeda, G.C., and L.O. White. 2008. Herbolaria y pintura mural: Plantas medicinales en los murals del Convento del Divino Salvador de Malinalco, Estado de México. Polibotanica 25: 173–199.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture & Natural ResourcesDelaware State UniversityDoverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Horticulture & Landscape ArchitecturePurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

Personalised recommendations