Shire horse and seeker

I have been working on the proposal for my MSc dissertation project this week. Pretty much all week, in fact. I’ll tell you more about that later, but while I was researching my topic, I picked up a book I have been lent – “British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History”, by Colin Spencer.

I can’t remember what I was looking for now, but I didn’t find it. But I got a little sidetracked and came across this gem, which is from the Second World War period:

“Theodora Fitzgibbon queued for hours to buy horsemeat and made enormous patés and jellied tongues which everyone enjoyed, thinking it was beef.”

Which struck me as rather apposite, given the current scandal of horsemeat being (unexpectedly) found in processed food. And it reminded me of a conversation I had with Radix when the story first broke, about the number of plants with a connection to horses or beef in their common name.

There’s a fair few, and I’m sure we didn’t come up with an exhaustive list, but I will share some of the best ones with you.


On the ‘horse’ end of the deal, we have horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), of course. And the lovely leafy plant with the happy grasshopper is horse mint, Mentha longifolia. There’s horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), and the dastardly horsetails (Equisteum species), and another common weed called horseweed (Conyza canadensis).

There’s also the horse mushroom, which is apparently edible and “sought after”, which may make up somewhat for it not being a plant 🙂

And the rather attractive Arum pictum unfortunately smells like horse dung. You may or may not find that a more attractive scent than the pong of tainted beef emitted by Rafflesia arnoldii.

When I was at school (long, long ago, and far away), I helped out in the greenhouse propagating plants that were used in biology lessons. I didn’t take biology long enough to find out what fate awaited them, but I grew rather fond of a purple-leaved plant we called the beefsteak plant. That common name is used for several different species, but after a little Google I reckon what I propagated ad infinitum was probably Amaranthaceae Iresine herbstii.

Most of you would probably prefer an edible plant, and as well as beefsteak tomatoes, Shiso (Perilla frutescens) is often called the beefsteak plant.

Beefsteak mushroom

And there’s a beefsteak mushroom! So-called because when you slice it, it looks like steak:


They grow on oak trees, and colour the wood – which makes it very sought-after for decorative furniture. This one was growing at Harcourt Arboretum, until one of the staff there sliced it up for dinner.

And the plant world also has the perfect exclamation for those moments when, in the company of your family, you realise the lasagne you’ve just served isn’t quite as beefy as you might have liked.

“Oh, bull kelp!”

Feel free to add your own beefy or horsey plant names in the comments 🙂