License: Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike Author: Giles Watson
Molars, purpled from chewing blood,
Mouth the air. Like a fractured jaw,
It atrophies in brown senescence,
Shrivelled in mortal sequence.
Then come canines, each slick blade
A channelled fang on forest floor.
Curtailed questions, curt statements:
Death in life, blanched and bland.
Toothworts, pictured here on the grounds of a Roman villa, parasitize the roots of trees, and contain no chlorophyll. The doctrine of signatures dictated that these corpse-like flowers were good for toothache, because they look so much like molars. As Grigson, The Englishman’s Flora
points out, “the corolla rapidly dries and shrivels to a dark brown, so that on a spike at one time fresh flowers on top are succeeded by shrivelled flowers below, adding to the plant’s deathliness.” Moreover, the capsules “are ivory-white and shiny and channelled like small fangs.” Fortunately for the plants they parasitize, but not for enthusiasts, these botanical vampires are comparatively rare. See also Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica
, p. 336.