Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Voynich Manuscript: White Mulberry

I am adding second possibility for VMs fol. 9r - white mulberry (Morus alba) - which is the favorite food of the silkworm (Bombyx mori). The root reminds of fabric and the extensions of the leaves may symbolize the silkworms feeding on them. Once the silk production was a state secret of China but by the 15th century the silk was made also in Italy and France.

One can argue that if the root represents fabric - it doesn't look very silky. In 15th century Europe silk velvet was a very popular fabric. One way to produce velvet is to create loops while weaving the silk then cut those loops creating the 'hairs'(one loop makes a pair that is fluffed after cutting). Another way to produce velvet is by weaving the silk between two layers then cutting between the layers creating two sheets of fabric with their silky 'hairs' sticking up in pairs.

At the base of the plant we see spade-like shape. In the German playing cards tradition the spades were called leaves (the example is from 1475). Mulberry can have both palmate and spade-like leaves on the same branch.

Update: In 2012 Diane O'Donovan suggested the root resembles fabric -  tufted or fleecy cloth (flexible enough to wind as a scarf).


  1. Interesting choice, and one which neatly avoids the problem that fleecy cloth was not available to much of Europe at the time the manuscript was made, as I said some years ago in relation to this folio. I doubt after so long you'd recall it, so I'll repeat the reference in case you find it useful later.

    "Before the fifteenth century, tufted or fleecy cloth (flexible enough to wind as a scarf) was extremely rare in Europe.

    We know of it chiefly (and probably only) among Scandinavians, used first for capes worn in some images by Norse raiders standing on the open deck of their serpentine ships.

    By the fourteenth century, such fabric was being used, pile-side down, as bedspreads - a kind of poor man's fleece.

    As pannus villosus [fleecy cloth] it was a bed-covering permitted some Brigidine nuns in Sweden during the fourteenth century but already by then, according to Geijer* it was a traditional weave in Norway and in Finland - where it was called a 'rya rug'. Despite the description as a rug, it was not used on the floor at that time.

    Geijer also describes how a fad for this cloth spread its use, and knowledge of its manufacture more broadly during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but we need not pursue that point."

    From the blogger blog "Voynich imagery 2: the Botanical Folios" January 28, 2012 (since closed to the public).

    The Greek flokati could be an exception in the Mediterranean.

    But your suggesting velvet avoids the problem, while also narrowing the range to a particular period in Italy. Well done.

  2. Dear Ellie (& Diane):
    Last year (March 14, 2014) I posted to Nick's cipher mysteries page (Stephen Bax Voynich, was the header for the discussion) my identification of the 'berry' pictured on B-408 folio 11v:
    The fruit being pictured is a mulberry from the Morus Alba tree: The leaves of that tree were chopped into tiny small pieces for which to feed the silkworms. Key words (latin) in folio llv were sericine, pabulum, blattae. Briefly translated to Chinese silkworm butterfly larvae which ate the chopped leaves until they were large enough to spin cocoons around themselves). It was important to silk fabric makers to boil the cocoons before the larvae transformed into butterflies which would have eaten through the cocoon. If the cocoon was eaten through by the blattae (emerging moth) the silk thread would be unusable for plying and weaving. Usually one cocoon would yield several hundred yards of very fine thread which would be reeled/plied with several other threads. The reeled thread could then be woven into fine silk satin or even velvet.

  3. Another use for morus alba was the bark of the tree for making paper in "New Spain". Sometimes the bark was mixed and pulped with bark from the 'strangler fig'. Fray Sahagun's Codex (nicknamed the "Florentine) illustrates the process of making paper, as well as the scribes writing efforts.

  4. Preliminary to the discussion of the paper making process, in the same folio, appears the the mulberry tree with the coils of a strangler fig climbing the mulberry tree.

  5. I id'd this one as (Rheum rhabarbarum) The red could be used for painting/coloring hair. Also for some health issues. It is mentioned in more manuscripts of those days. Do you think that would be an option? Kind regards Wouter