Asphodelus ramosus

Branched asphodel                                                                                  Ασφόδελος

Asphodelaceae - asphodel family                                                            Monocot.


The name of this flower, asphodel, evokes a romantic idea of the Greek landscape. With it's tall handsome flower spikes, Asphodelus ramosus is an impressive sight in springtime, however it is a very common plant, which is often considered to be a weed. It is widespread throughout Greece in olive groves, neglected fields and waste ground and often found near graveyards. Since ancient times, it has been considered in to be a food for the poor and helped many to survive the depredations of the Second World War.

In many books and papers the plant is referred to as Asphodelus aestivus, but this plant does not occur in Greece.

2-3cm , 20-40cm,
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Asphodels and the afterlife

Often found in or near graveyards, asphodels have, since ancient times, been associated with death. Persephone; the wife of Hades and queen of the underworld wore a wreath of asphodels around her head. Although they were considered poor food for the living, it was thought that asphodel roots were the favourite food of the shades, the spirits of the dead.

In romantic literature Asphodel fields have been portrayed as a fertile, fragrant, flowery paradise. Homer, however described the asphodel meadow (άσφθδελόν λειμώνα) as a dark and gloomy ash covered place, where spirits weep and wail pathetically.

The ancient Greek image of the afterlife evolved over many centuries but still has resonance in modern culture. A coin was placed beneath the tongue of the dead to pay the ferryman and their souls were ferried across the River Acheon by the ancient, drab and dirty Charon with fiery eyes and filthy cape.

On arrival in the underworld, the spirits were judged by their lives and deeds on earth. The spirits of heroes and those of extraordinary virtue entered the Elysian Fields, a place of fertile beauty with abundant water and cooling winds; evil sinners were condemned to Tartarus, the deepest, darkest pit below Hades, where they would be tortured for eternity; the ordinary souls remained in the Asphodel Fields where they would wander forever.

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