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Friday, 9 August 2019

Moses in the Reed Mace?

Over the years I have seen and / or photographed a good variety of rare or scarce birds feeding on or emerging from the familiar marginal plant Typha latifolia. With its impressive mahogany-brown seed heads, it has, for example, frequently attracted Penduline Tits: all five I've seen in the UK have been feeding on the seeds or the small grubs they contain.

Now I know I might be a bit anal about things like this, but let's just be clear: the plant in question is Greater Reed Mace, not Bulrush! Just because people have been calling it by the wrong name for a century doesn't make it right!

The origin of this misnomenclature is surprisingly easy to discover: it goes back to an illustration in the children's Bible that many of us were exposed to in Primary or Sunday School. The artist mistakenly used Reed Mace in his painting of 'Moses in the Bulrushes', because he wasn't aware that the 'reeds' mentioned in Exodus 2: 1 - 10 were certainly Papyrus: he also didn't know that Reed Mace and Bulrush are two entirely different water plants. I couldn't by any stretch of the imagination be described as a Christian, but I enjoy reading most of the World's sacred texts: here're the relevant verses from the Old Testament:

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby.

Greater Reedmace



Moses in the Reedmace!

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