The Extravagant Partisanship of the Leek-Green Faction

When first I became a maker of wood-meadows, it was in response to the devastating losses in flora and fauna that we have witnessed during my lifetime. That over 97% of lowland meadows have gone under the plough, with a similar degree of disappearance in coppiced woodlands – never mind all those miles of mixed hedgerows – prompted the following thoughts:
If we’ve lost all those from the base of the ecological pyramid, what has happened to the fauna that depended on them? The grievous declines in invertebrate pollinators of every stripe, and of the songbirds, which, in turn, depend on them to feed their nestlings, seem to have run in parallel. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

I know fine well that the recreation of a wood-meadow ecosystem by planting rather than natural regeneration is controversial. But perhaps by far the most important part of any such attempt must be to ensure that the plants in the wood-meadow provide not only nectar and pollen, but also the larval food sources for their young. This implies detailed study of the history of the ecosystem, and of the component parts, not only in terms of species, but especially in relation to the long-term management. It’s an ancient system, probably dating back  7,000–8,000 years. It was once widespread in temperate Northern Europe, is possibly one of the oldest known forms of human management, and it supports one of the most diverse of plant communities  on the planet.

That’s all part of my back-story now. But perhaps the biggest part of the biggest part of my researches was my discovery of moths, and the subsequent searches for the floral and arboreal associations and relationships of moths and other Lepidoptera.
And of the moth that first captured my heart in a single moment of pure trembling enchantment? How could I not have known such a joyous thing existed, or that it would inspire such a sense of wonder? A sumptuous beauty in clothed in emerald velveteen that came to mind each time I closed my eyes for weeks after my first sighting.

It was Pseudoips prasinana (L.), the Green Silver-lines. And this is why.


Above and featured photo: Pseudoips prasinana, Green Silver-lines, both taken in an East Sussex woodland by Hildesvini. Own work, CC0

The Green Silver-lines is on the wing between May and July, having hatched from its tough boat-shaped pupa on the underside of the leaves of its larval food plants: Downy and Silver birches, oaks, hazel and elms – they should all be major components in any new copse plantings, in my opinion. And no, it’s not enough just to plant flowers – many other species of moth use our native trees too, often in numbers that far outstrip those of meadow flowers.  As I discovered when reading that seminal ecological paper, by Robert Southwood, The number of insect species associated with various trees.(1961). [See acknowledgements].

There have been other joys on this entomological journey. Oh, etymology, which has a constant source of wonder to me. There’s an English word, prasinous, which means of a clear, lively green colour, and it’s derived from the Ancient Greek, πρᾰ́σῐνος prásinos, meaning leek-green, light green. So there you have it: prasinus m ‎(feminine prasina, neuter prasinum) – leek green.
But as with many specific epithets that denote colour – and they’re used in Natural Latin for both flora and fauna – the actual shade is seldom precise. There are upwards of 1096 colour names to choose from. I used three major references to help track them down, mostly H.A. Dade’s Colour Terminology in Biology, and Ridgway’s Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (1912). 
The spectrum of the colour prasina looks something like this:
Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 19.25.40 copy
My further etymological explorations lead me to discover that the term prasinus has been exploited right across the natural spectrum- not only by entomologists.


Above: Anaplectoides prasina,  the Green Arches moth.
By Bernard Dupont, France. CC BY-SA 2.0


Above: Mimoides pausanias prasinus. Costa Rica, Limon Province, S. Rio Blanca. By kind permission of Andy Warren. Thanks Andy!

Big Beak, Little Body

Above: Emerald toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasinos, at the Moody Garden’s Rainforest Pyramid, by Kati Fleming – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Above: A Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax prasinus, left and Greyface Moray Eel, Gymnothorax thrysoideus, sharing a lair. Green Island, South West Rocks, NSW By Richard Ling – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

And to include the amphibians too, thus covering all groups …

Nymphargus prasinus 9644
The Rio Calina Cochran Frog, Nymphargus prasinus (Duellman, 1981). A species of glass frog. Photo: William E Duellman via CalPhotos. © 2010 Division of Herpetology, University of Kansas.

That, however, is not the end of it. For I discovered that Claudius, Nero and Caligula were also enthusiastic leek-greeners. The leek-green faction of charioteers in the Roman circus, as opposed to the reds, blues and whites,  were known as – you’ve guessed it. The prasina, or prasinoi. You will note that, since the circuit was conducted in an anti-clockwise fashion, the greens are in the lead. And if, as Robert Graves would have us believe, Claudius enjoyed such extravagant partisanship of the leek-green faction, well frankly … so do I.

Prasinoi Mosaico_del_circo_MCGR_2285

Above: Le quatro equipas (blau, verde, blanc, rubie) al circo. Mosaico trovate a Lyon (rue Jarente) in 1806. Charioteers. By QuartierLatin1968 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Acknowledgements: I should like to thank entomologist, Robin Howard, for introducing me to both the Green Silver-lines, and to the invaluable A. Maitland Emmett, The Scientific Names Of The British Lepidoptera: Their History And Meaning. Harley Books. (1991). I now sleep with this beneath my pillow, in the hope that some form of osmosis may occur.
And to the late and sorely missed Professor Simon Leather, for introducing me to Southwood, T.R.E. (1961). The number of insect species associated with. various trees. Journal of Animal Ecology, 30, 1-8.

Author: Natural Latin

Author, editor, horticulturist, biologist ... curious about everything

7 thoughts on “The Extravagant Partisanship of the Leek-Green Faction”

    1. the etymological links are fascinating, Bob. Many of the original terms for minerals and their colours descend directly from Aristotle. Chrysoprase is very interesting; it lends its name to a whole Order of invertebrates: Chrysomelidae; Chrysomelinae, which includes, for example, Chrysolina oricalcia. And most of them display to some extent that range of brilliant reflectance that you associate with with the gem stone chrysoprase. The Small Emerald moth’s specific name is Hemistola chrysoprasia; and the Burnished Brass, Diachrysia chrysitis, uses it twice for emphasis!

      Some of the most intriguing (to me) uses of the Aristotelian colour names appear in the Wycliffe Bible, c.1384. You’ll recognise many of them. Lin x


      21: 19 Et fundamenta muri civitatis omni lapide pretioso ornata. Fundamentum primum, jaspis: secundum, sapphirus: tertium, calcedonius: quartum, smaragdus:
      21: 20 quintum, sardonyx: sextum, sardius: septimum, chrysolithus: octavum, beryllus: nonum, topazius: decimum, chrysoprasus: undecimum, hyacinthus: duodecimum, amethystus.

      21:19 And the foundaments of the wall of the city were adorned with all precious stone. The first foundament, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald [smaragdus];
      21:20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.


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