Sir Thomas Browne (1683) Certain Miscellany Tracts. Tract II: Of Garlands and Coronary or Garland-Plants, pp. 89-95.





Coronary or Garland-plants


The use of flowry Crowns and Garlands is of no slender Antiquity, and higher than I conceive you apprehend it. For, besides the old Greeks and Romans, the Ægyptians made use hereof; who, beside the bravery of their Garlands, had little Birds upon them to peck their Heads and Brows, and so to keep them from sleeping at their Festival compotations. This practice also extended as far as India: for at the Feast with the Indian King, it is peculiarly observed by Philostratus that their custom was to wear Garlands, and come crowned with them unto their Feast2.

The Crowns and Garlands of the Ancients were either Gestatory, such as they wore about their Heads or Necks; Portatory, such as they carried at solemn Festivals; Pensile or Suspensory, such as they hanged about the Posts of their Houses in honour of their Gods, as of Jupiter Thyræus or Limeneus; or else they were Depository, such as they laid upon the Graves and Monuments of the dead. And these were made up after all ways of Art, Compactile, Sutile, Plectile; for which Work there were στεφανοπλόκοι, or expert Persons to contrive them after the best grace and property.

Though we yield not unto them in the beauty of flowry Garlands, yet some of those of Antiquity were larger than any we lately meet with: for we find in Athenæus that a Myrtle Crown of one and twenty foot in compass was solemnly carried about at the Hellotian Feast in Corinth, together with the Bones of Europa.3

And Garlands were surely of frequent use among them; for we read in Galen4 that when Hippocrates cured the great Plague of Athens by Fires kindled in and about the City; the fuel thereof consisted much of their Garlands. And they must needs be very frequent and of common use, the ends thereof being many. For they were convivial, festival, sacrificial, nuptial, honorary, funebrial. We who propose unto our selves the pleasures of two Senses, and onely single out such as are of Beauty and good Odour, cannot strictly confine our selves unto imitation of them.

For, in their convivial Garlands, they had respect unto Plants preventing drunkenness, or discussing the exhalations from Wine; wherein, beside Roses, taking in Ivy, Vervain, Melilote, &c. they made use of divers of small Beauty or good Odour. The solemn festival Garlands were made properly unto their Gods, and accordingly contrived from Plants sacred unto such Deities; and their sacrificial ones were selected under such considerations. Their honorary Crowns triumphal, ovary, civical, obsidional, had little of Flowers in them; and their funebrial Garlands had little of Beauty in them beside Roses, while they made them of Myrtle, Rosemary, Apium5 &c. under symbolical intimations: but our florid and purely ornamental Garlands, delightfull unto sight and smell, nor framed according to mystical and symbolical considerations, are of more free election, and so may be made to excell those of the Ancients; we having China, India, and a new world to supply us, beside the great distinction of Flowers unknown unto Antiquity, and the varieties thereof arising from Art and Nature.

But, beside Vernal, Æstival and Autumnal made of Flowers, the Ancients had also Hyemal Garlands; contenting themselves at first with such as were made of Horn died into several Colours, and shaped into the Figures of Flowers, and also of Æs Coronarium or Clincquant or Brass thinly wrought out into Leaves commonly known among us. But the curiosity6 of some Emperours for such intents had Roses brought from Ægypt untill they had found the art to produce late Roses in Rome, and to make them grow in the Winter, as is delivered in that handsome Epigramme of Martial,7

At tu Romana jussus jam cedere Brumæ Mitte tuas messes, Accipe, Nile, Rosas.

Some American Nations, who do much excell in Garlands, content not themselves onely with Flowers, but make elegant Crowns of Feathers, whereof they have some of greater radiancy and lustre than their Flowers: and since there is an Art to set into shapes, and curiously to work it in choicest Feathers, there could nothing answer the Crowns made of the choicest Feathers of some Tomineios and Sun Birds.

The Catalogue of Coronary Plants is not large in Theophrastus, Pliny, Pollux, or Athenæus: but we may find a good enlargement in the accounts of Modern Botanists; and additions may still be made by successive acquists of fair and specious Plants, not yet translated from foreign Regions or little known unto our Gardens; he that would be complete may take notice of these following,

Flos Tigridis. Flos Lyncis. Pinea Indici Recchi, Talama Ouiedi. Herba Paradisea. Volubilis Mexicanus. Narcissus Indicus Serpentarius. Helichrysum Mexicanum. Xicama. Aquilegia novæ Hispaniæ Cacoxochitli Recchi. Aristochæa Meixcana. Camaratinga sive Caragunta quarta Pisonis. Maracuia Granadilla. Cambay sive Myrtus Americana. Flos Auriculæ Flor de la Oreia. Floripendio novæ Hispaniæ. Rosa Indica. Zilium Indicum. Fula Magori Garciæ. Champe Garciæ Champacca Bontii. Daullontasa frutex odoratus seu Chamæmelum arborescens Bontii. Beidelsar Alpini. Sambuc. Amberboi Turcarum. Nuphar Ægyptium. Lilionarcissus Indicus. Bamma Ægyptiacum. Hiucca Canadensis horti Farnesiani. Buphthalmum novæ Hispaniæ Alepocapath. Valeriana seu Chrysanthemum Americanum Acocotlis. Flos Cervinus Coronarius Americanus. Capolin Cerasus dulcis Indicus Floribus racemosis. Asphodelus Americanus. Syringa Lutea Americana. Bulbus unifolius. Moly latifolium Flore luteo. Conyza Americana purpurea. Salvia Cretica pomifera Bellonii. Lausus Serrata Odora. Ornithogalus Promontorii Bonæ Spei. Fritallaria crassa Soldanica Promontorii Bonæ Spei. Sigillum Solomonis Indicum. Tulipa Promontorii Bonæ Spei. Iris Uvaria. Nopolxoch sedum elegans novæ Hispaniæ.

More might be added unto this List;8 and I have onely taken the pains to give you a short Specimen of those many more which you may find in respective Authours, and which time and future industry may make no great strangers in England. The Inhabitants of Nova Hispania, and a great part of America, Mahometans, Indians, Chineses, are eminent promoters of these coronary and specious Plants: and the annual Tribute of the King of Bisnaguer in India, arising out of Odours and Flowers, amounts unto many thousands of crowns.

Thus, in brief, of this matter, I am, &c.


1 [J. Evelyn: “This letter was written to me from Dr. Browne; more at large in the Coronarie Plants.” Wilkin notes “In the preface to Evelyn’s Acetaria, … we find his ‘Plan of a Royal Garden, in 3 Books’. It was in reference to this projected work, (of which however Acetaria was the only part ever published,) that Browne’s assistance was asked and given. Among the subjects named in that plan the following are referred to in the present Tract, and in other of Browne’s Letters to Evelyn; — Book II. chap. 6. Of a seminary; nurseries; and of propagating trees, plants, and flowrs; planting and transplanting, &c. Chap. 16. Of the coronary garden. Chap. 18. Of stupendous and wonderful plants. Book III. Chap. 9. Of garden-burial. Chap. 10. Of paradise, and of the most famous gardens in the world, ancient and modern.”]

2. [In Book II, Chap. 27.]

3. [Book XV, 678A,B, quoting Seleucus:

Seleucus also, in his treatise on Dialects, says, that there is a kind of garland made of myrtle, which is called Ἐλλωτὶς, being twenty cubits in circumference, and that it is carried in procession on the festival of the Ellotia. And he says, that in this garland the bones of Europa, whom they call Ellotis, are carried. And this festival of the Ellotia is celebrated in Corinth.]

4. De Theriaca ad Pisonem. [“Ascribed to Galen”, Browne points out in his Vulgar Errors.]

5. [Celery.]

6. [That is, skill and care, as in Shadwell: “You will arrive at that curiosity in this watery science {i.e., of swimming}, that not a frog breathing will exceed you.” The term is often used, however, with negative connotation.]

7. [VI.80.8-9]

8. [Evelyn notes "Which Sir Thomas sent me a catalogue of from Norwich." The list has not been found.]

This page is by James Eason.