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   author: Dr John S Plant (bio); website usage since July 2000; last updated January 1st 2024.

This website of many webpages contains copious information for the surnames Plant and similar:

   maintained continuously since its inception in 2000 by JSP, initially under a paid-up Plant Family History Group 1990-2007, briefly revived 2010-14;
   activity is now more entirely on-line within this website, with a separate Facebook discussion group, and a separate DNA test ordering site.

Green Man

In this particular webpage below:


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   Some Notable Plants and How to Join in.

Name Origins Original Meaning French Origins Plant Heraldry Plant Soul Feudal Overlords
   Name Origins and Meaning, with sub-buttons: in France; Plant Heraldry; Plant Soul; and Feudal overlords.

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   Name Distribution Maps with sub-buttons: Plant surname DNA; Plant(e) in Canada; and in USA.

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   Articles in our Plant Journal and some other articles.

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   Early Plant Records: early documents; Plant wills; Plant marriages etc; and former members.

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   Reunion photographs and presentation slides.

Contacts Roles W Keith Plant John S Plant
   Contacts and Roles, including: group founder W Keith Plant (WKP); and website author etc Dr John S Plant (JSP).


Two brief summary points

Dominated by a large single family. Recent DNA and population findings suggest that the Plant surname belongs mostly to a large genetic single family, that has grown at the limits of what can be expected in England just by luck – this suggests an extra beneficial factor, such as thriving from an early start in favourable growth conditions relative to others, as might be expected with access to ample productive land for example. Like Plant, those with the modern spelling Plante belong mostly to a similarly large main family though the growth of this genetically distinct Plante family is mainly in North America where fresh favourable conditions are less unusual.

A continental origin to the name. Apart from an Alpine origin for Julius 'Planta' in 46AD, the earliest known form of the name had the spelling 'Plante'. This is recorded in Normandy in 1180. There was also the name form 'de la Planta', also in northern France, for a landholder in 1202 in the Angevin homeland of count Geffrey the Fair. In the 1170s, Geffrey had the nickname 'Plante Genest' (later spelled Plantagenet) which appears in a posthumous biography for him – this complimentary eulogy was written for the benefit of Geffrey's eldest son Henry who had become king of England in 1154. The arrival of the Plant name in England can be related to noble links such as one through the feudal authority of Geffrey's grandson William Longspée whose heiress married into the Audley family of the NW Midlands of England. This and other such links, along with monastic ties, likely played a part in bringing the French fashion for the Plant name to the north Staffordshire lands of the Audleys, where the Plant surname proliferated and from where the main Plant family went on to migrate far and wide.

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Some contexts of possible meaning

The frequently repeated claim that Plant means a 'gardener' lacks certainty – it relies on the names Plantebene and Planterose while ignoring other medieval English names such as Plantegenest, Plantefolie, Plantefene and de Plantes. Earlier for example in 1198, the name de Planteiz occurs near the settlement of le Plantis in Normandy indicating that de Plantes in England likely refers to origins from that same place.

In France, Plante and Plantard are held to refer to someome living at or near a newly planted place (e.g. with vines). On the other hand, possible interpretations of Plant as a nickname, instead of being locative, have been proposed. For Plante and Plantie in SW France, there is an 1881 attestation of a Langue D'Òc phrase una bella planta d'homme (a handsome sprig of a man) which is said to be an ironical reference to a small man. Also, for the main English Plant homeland, there is comprehensive dated evidence for deconstructing modern science to give sense as a basic soul (man's vegetative soul), perhaps one yet to be instilled with the intellective Word of God, though a threefold division of God's planted soul (vegetative, animal, intellective) had hardly taken hold at the time of the first evidence for the medieval Plant name in Western Europe. That aside, the name Plantul, which dates back in Normandy to the 1190s, means a seedling or young plant and so also did the word plant in early times. Thus, we have Plant as a possible ontological metaphor for a young person or child or novice, as included in the full version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED n1 1b, Obsolete).

Much depends on the medieval context. Understanding the circumstances relevant to the early Plant surname present challenges for a modern mind. Key to the Plant name, there was the 12th-century flowering of chivralry and knighthood especially in the contested lands of Normandy, followed by a 14th century decline with famine and pestilence and then the 16th-century dissolution in England of the monasteries. Various attempts have been made to represent some of this in relatively easy to follow films, some being less faithful to the medieval record than others. For example, a film that is somewhat sensitive to backwards travel through time is Bresson's 'Lancelot du Lac'; this addresses the present with ancient myth and is known for its 'constant anachronisms' as a deliberate signal to some problematic differences of time. For example, the odd inclination of cinematic knights to wear armour at all times is here given meaning, when king Arthur enjoins it as a mark of preparedness. This film's ruined habitations, bare walled rooms and unadorned tents are appropriate to tenacious monastic dedication in an age of earthly decline. [Williams p388]

[WILLIAMS, David J, Sir Gawain in Films, pp 385-392 in A Companion to the Gawain Poet, edited by Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson, 1997, ISSN 0261-9814]

These simple nods to differences in the times are not incongruous with the Plants' 14th-century homeland, with its knightly manor at Horton adjoining Leek's Cistercian abbey moorlands. For this, we are especially blessed with the written words of the local 14th-century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is recognised by advanced scholars as a tour de force of Middle English literature. Though at heart it is an Arthurian myth, it provides rare medieval insights into the detail and feel of relevant surroundings. A meaning for Plant as 'a plant of God's craft' makes more sense here than most might believe.

The French past participle planté means planted and this might have held a special significance for those medieval lords who took in hand extra lands in England following the largely permanent loss of Normandy by England in 1204. Lands and castles were lost in Normandy by the earl of Chester and the earl William Longspée, with their losses being not far from the first recorded instance of the Plante name: this first known record is for 1180, when Durand Plante was fined at Coutances for fighting duels – this was near the western coast of the Cotentin peninsular in Normandy. If we assume that men called Plante were not themselves displaced to England, though that is not inconsistent with the existing DNA evidence, we still have that these Chester-Longspée lords could have brought with them a culture for the name Plante to ascribe to some of their peasants, likely ones who lived at or near a 'planted place' thereby retaining an already established sense for the Plant name. This might relate for example to a freshly established settlement with newly assarted lands, which was the circumstance of Dieulacres Abbey founded by the earl of Chester during 1214-32. The adjoining manor at Horton was granted in 1218 to Henry de Audley, both estates lying near the border of north Staffordshire with Cheshire.

More widely, origins for the Plant name can be seen through a lens that plant was a simple Latin word for setting down basic life to spring up, around which various shades of understanding have developed. The Roman Empire and Church spread its Latin senses for more than a millennium before the Plant surname formed alongside such languages as: Old English; Anglo-Norman; dialects of Middle English; the langue d'oïl of Anjou; the Gascon dialect of langue d'òc; old Aquitainian; Swiss Romansh; and for example Welsh. In the full version of the Oxford English Dictionary, the entry for plant is much longer than most, with some meanings that are relevant to standard types of surname, some having become archaic to a modern mind.

In particular, there was the Latin Vulgate Bible throughout western Europe with related senses applicable to the Plant name. Such senses as the aforesaid Old and Middle English 'a plant of God's virtuous craft' (OED v 3a, C9th) seem applicable especially in a religious setting, such as in the Lichfield diocese which includes the most populous homeland for the early Plant name, especially around Dieulacres Abbey. This 'planted craft' sense occurs in an Old English translation by king Alfred of a work by Boethius who was the translator of the bible into Latin and it can be considered alongside other biblical senses of 'planted people' in a 'planted place'. It would seem mistaken to ignore such an old sense for plant as a surname, bearing in mind that biblical names were the source of many English Christian forenames alongside the retained names of some potent Norman invaders.

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An introductory outline to a feature of interest

The outline below relates to a topic that has attracted some interest; it concerns the earliest evidence for the Plant name. The 19th-century claim that Plant descends from the royal name Plantagenet has been debunked, not least by y-dna evidence. However it remains the case that the partly-similar Plant surname shares a 12th-century time and place with the first evidence for the Plantagenet name suggesting some cultural overlap of meaning.

Main Plant homeland by 1360
Paths in Leek parish

Many pathways point to Plant name origins, such as... Julius Planta, 46AD, a friend of the Roman Emperor Claudius; Durand Plante, Normandy 1180, fighting duels, with William Plantapeluda nearby, meaning hairy shoot or hairy leaf, and the Plantegenest nickname also nearby in both Normandy and Greater Anjou for the English king Henry II's father whose name is associated with the broom plant which is hairy when young; a geneat called Galfrido Plauntegenet, Oxford 1266; and, in the Welsh Marches, a bailiff Robert Plonte, 1280, in the Bristol Avon and Richard Plant with rights to coal, 1301, near Chester ...as well as very many more early records listed here.


Earliest evidence and possible meanings of Plant

In the second half of the 20th century, Plant was commonly supposed to mean 'gardener'. The reasoning for this relies on just a part of the evidence. A more detailed study shows that it is misleading to claim that there are no other meanings that are at least equally possible, such as 'shoot, offshoot, child' or living near a 'planted place'. As a result of my accumulated studies since the turn of the millennium, all of these possible meanings are currently included in the 2016 Oxford Dictionary of Family Names of Britain and Ireland [update here].

The earliest known, late medieval occurrences for this surname include the spellings Plante (1180) in western Normandy, de Planteiz (1198) near le Plantis in southern Normandy and de la Planta (1202) in Anjou. The last one of these was for a landowner at two castles in the Plantagenets' initial homeland of Greater Anjou. His name de la Planta might have referred to his having come from a place as far away as a region called la Planta in the Alps or from some other much nearer 'planted place' such as a vineyard.

The ancient name Planta in the Alps. Much earlier in 46AD, Julius Planta had been a friend and advisor of the Roman Emperor Claudius with responsibilities at Trento in the Italian Alps. By late medieval times, there were Alpine branches of a noble family called Planta. The locations of the surviving names von Planta and Planta suggest that the name could mean, for example, from the Engadine (Romansh for 'Inn Garden') implying from the 'fertile source of the River Inn'. Even in England, though distant, there is an early link from the Alps: the London priest Henry Plante (1350) was from Risole, evidently Risoul in the French Alps.

Rhaetian museum Planta, Alps
Planta Museum

The 1202 name de la Planta in Greater Anjou (a region of northern France to the south of Normandy) might mean from an Alpine region called 'la Planta' alongside the 'garden' meaning of the Engadine. More generally however, the Plant name might refer to similar places nearer their late medieval homeland.

More generally in England, it seems that any Alpine meaning for Plant could have morphed, or the name could have arisen independently. That has been proposed for an isolated gardener near Hull (1377) whom it has been supposed was called Plant because of his occupation. That said, his occupation gardener could have been simply a coincidence of his 'living near a garden' since there were several very different occupations, other than gardener, that are recorded for earlier bearers of the Plant name. Indeed, it cannot be ruled out that all those receiving the Plant name were living near either a 'garden' or some other 'planted place'. That would avoid the obvious contradictions to their having occupations other than a gardener, though there are still some other possibilities not involving their location.

Gardener
Gardener

The sense of Plant could have been locational or topographical, such as having come from a place called la Planta or having an address of living 'near a garden' or a 'planted' or 'founded' place. The last of these relates to an early English meaning of plant: to found or establish. This appears in such early usage as 'to plant (establish) a settlement' or 'to plant (found) a church' (OED).

A populous homeland. For example, around the region of the Plant name's most populous homeland, by 1360, its first known precise location (1362, 1373) was at Midgeley in England – this is on the county border between Wincle Chapel (see below), which is in south-east Cheshire, and the mythical Luds Church in north-east Staffordshire.

Luds Church
Luds Church

On that basis, we might presume that a Plant family could have acquired a 'planted place' sense to their name as a result of living near the Black Prince's 'newly founded vaccary' here (ca.1360). An assumption that the Plant naming was connected to this 'vaccary' (cattle raising plant), would more or less tally with the finding that Plant records have been found in this vicinity from 1360 onwards. However, it turns out that there were already several called Plant here by that time, suggesting that the name might have originated somewhere nearby some years earlier, unless we presume that the name rather oddly was coined here just once for a group of several different people.

For earlier times, there is a possible clue that can be linked to this subsequently-known main Plant homeland though that clue is not particularly near in the geographical sense. The Plant name in 1301 had been 50 miles away at Eweloe – this is near Poulton lands that belonged to Dieulacres Abbey and we can add that this abbey was located at the heart of the Plants' most populous homeland adjoining to the south of the aforesaid Lud's Church.

Dieulacres
Dieulacres

Inadequate records prevent us knowing precisely when the Plant name might have first occurred in connection with this homeland, though it could have been near Dieulacres a few miles south of Midgeley and in connection to the abbey's earlier site at Poulton. This then opens up other possibilities, such as local Plants might have been so named because they lived near the newly planted abbey, or because they tended its herb gardens, or because they planted isolated farmsteads in connection with this Cistercian abbey's granges. Dieulacres had been refounded from Poulton Abbey in 1214 by the 6th earl of Chester.

Some local noble overlords. In the Longspée-Audley hypothesis, a line of nobles appear to have been the feudal lords over more or less all early Plant name locations. As well as in Normandy, there are several locations perhaps showing the possible 'footprints' of these Lord's influence on the formation of the Plant name in England which is first known by 1262 with the influence perhaps ongoing to the name's known locations for a century or so later. At later dates, these initial footprints could have been 'trampled' and lost as the Plant name expired, or perhaps after some migrations away from these evident early locations.

For example, the Audley manor of Horton adjoined Dieulacres Abbey and the Plant name could have spread around other Audley lands throughout locations in north Staffordshire in particular. Perhaps several genetically unrelated Plants might have been employed in the various Audley estates, each with a similar 'planting' role.

Audley
Thomas Audley ca.1385

That would tally with our Y-DNA results which suggest that Plant ancestors around north-east Staffordshire belonged to several different, genetically-distinct Plant families. That is not the full story however. More widely, the Y-DNA evidence shows that there was particularly one unusually large genetic family of these Plants which travelled far, apparently from early times in nearby western Staffordshire.

Longspée
William
Longspée

The Plant name might have come to England from Normandy as a French fashion if not by the migration of someone who was already called Plant or similar for example such as Planterose. Early Anglo-Norman associations can be related, for example, to the influence of the Tosny-Longspée family from Normandy which descended through a mistress called Ida de Tosny of the first 'Plantagenet' king (Henry II). This Longspée line subsequently married into the Audley family of Heleigh castle in north-west Staffordshire.

Strong Anglo-Norman links. The travels of Henry II's illegitimate son, William Longspée (from whom we speak of our Longspée-Audley hypothesis), included for example western Normandy with its aforementioned evidence of the Plante name in 1180. He was also associated with Staffordshire for example, the county with the highest population of Plants.

As an example of longer lasting links from Normandy, the Chester earls had held lands around western Normandy since before the Norman conquest of 1066 and gained their additional lands in England, especially those known as the honour of Chester. These including lands around the northern boundaries of Staffordshire.

Chester
Ranulph de Blundeville

These earls held their cross-Channel lands until England lost Normandy (1204), after when the 6th earl returned to western Normandy on occasion. Ranulph III, who became earl of Lincoln as well as Chester, took charge of a campaign into France from his erstwhile lands around the Normandy-Brittany border in 1231, at which time a charter from Dieulacres Abbey was presented to its old mother house Savigny Abbey in western Normandy. The region around Savigny was amongst those that were temporarily under the 6th earl's control during his leadership of English forces into France.

The long lasting connections of the Chester earls provided a strong cultural framework within which can be placed both Dieulacres abbey and, more widely, a basis for the Longspée-Audley hypothesis for the Plant name.

As indicated, feudal connections such as these could have brought to England a naming convention based on the French past participle planté of plant, as in coming from, or living near a planted place. The French early surname spelling Plante is found in records for England alongside a revised spelling Plant and there were associable place names (e.g. Planty and la Planteland) on both sides of the Channel. If 'planted' was descriptive of a minor topographical feature, it might well have been largely unknown elsewhere, though with the 'de' form it could have referred to rather more distant travel from a more established and widely known place-name.

As a specific example, the name Henry de Plantes occurs in 1282 in south-eastern England with the name evidently developing as Plantes and Plante. This name seemingly meant from the place called le Plantis in southern Normandy.

Such locative and topographical meanings for Plant and Plante are now included in The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names of Britain and Ireland along with the other favoured possibilities: gardener or child.

The possible child meaning. It remains to clarify the meaning 'child'. This relates to the meaning 'shoot', 'offshoot' of the medieval word plant (Latin planta). There was a similar name Ranulph Plantul in south Normandy (ca.1189-99) which had much the same meaning 'sprig', 'bouture' or 'seedling'.

In p-Celtic (Breton, Cornish, Welsh) plant means 'children' in Wales (where the Welsh language still survives). In q-Celtic, there is the different pronunciation cland of plant ('scion', 'offspring' 'clan') in old Irish. In Englsh, clan is more readily seen as associable with the 'offspring meaning than the somewhat-changed more modern English meanings of 'plant'.

In Cheshire, the usage 'child' or 'young person' is attested singular in English (1621) despite Cheshire adjoining Wales where the modern usage is 'children'. This dilemma of singular or plural ('child' or 'children') can be resolved to an extent by noting that the English word 'offspring' can mean one or many. This is not dissimilar to the ambiguities of identifying individuals in creepers (spreading plants), which serve as a metaphorical basis for an undefined number of children as is implied by the word 'offspring'.

It is unclear how early the Plant name was first in Ireland, though there was a Sir John Plant (ca.1480) who was head of the Dublin household of the Archbishop Primate of Ireland — he was perhaps connected to a John Plant junior in a list of 98 east Cheshire worthies (1445). Such seniority is compatible with an education for some that could have stretched to a literary understanding of such a poem as the 13th-century Roman de la Rose.

A little later than the Rose poem, at Riseley in Bedfordshire, John Plaunte, 1309, was taxed in the Subsidy Rolls and is considered to be almost certainly identical with John Planterose, similarly taxed in 1332. This suggests the meaning 'rose grower'. Less obviously, there are also some symbolic meanings, consistent with the contemporary religious exegesis.

Child
Child


A well-used ontological metaphor from medieval times relates to begetting a child from the Tree of Life. The 14th-century poem Piers Plowman states 'this tre hatte Trewe-love ... this is a propre plonte' and, alongside religious love, this poem conflates religious and human love as in the illustration above; this also underlies much in a young man's quest for his 'rose' in the 13th-century Roman de la Rose. The popularity of these poems is evidenced by their many survivng copies and they contain clues to a contemporary understanding of nature and the vegetal as perceived throughout western Europe. The 14th-century poet of 'Sir Gawin and the Green Kinght' has survived in a single contemporary manuscript and is more tightly associated, not least by its Middle English dialect, with the most populous Plant homeland in the NW Midlands of England.

Deep ancestry Y-DNA results for the Plants of the aforesaid well-travelled 'main' genetic Plant family suggest that, much earlier, their ancient ancestral male-line had likely travelled up the Atlantic coast from near Iberia over a timescale of two or more millennia. The details of this are hindered not least by legal restrictions on DNA testeting in France. However, many ancient genetic cousins of the 'main' Plant family, with the shared lineage of these 'very distant cousins' dating back to long before the adoption of surnames, have been found a step nearer to Staffordshire, not least especially in Cornwall especially (SW tip of England). Hence, we might ponder whether an Atlantic coast arrival was somehow longtime compatible with a p-Celtic pronunciation for Plant (from Breton, Cornish, Welsh) instead of q-Celtic cland, albeit with the variation 'child' in Cheshire of the Welsh meaning 'children'.

In keeping with a Celtic trek, the male-line of the main family might have arrived near Chester in small steps from Gascony in south-west France or possibly more nearly in larger leaps. This might have been as late as with king Edward I's 13th-century Gascon crossbow men in the conquest of north Wales, for example, or the Gascon wine trade, or trade involving Cornish tin and copper in the Bronze Age. That said, the influence for the Plant name (as opposed to the male-line of the most populous genetic Plant family) could have travelled very differently and, for example, late medieval surnames were often ascribed to peasants by their superiors. Though we do not know of any examples of the Plante name in SW France before 1441, the names Plante and Plantie are now found clustered around there and, for example in 1512-15, a priest Bernard Planté of Aignan was supplying red wine to local merchants. A favoured meaning of Plante here is hence for someone living near a vineyard.

As examples of biblical usage of the word 'plant', there is reference to Jacob 'supplanting' his brother Esau in the womb and David praying that these (senior) sons of Israel be as new 'plantings'.

Jacob's dream of the ladder, Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77
Jacobs Ladder by Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77
Stairway to Heaven, Robert Anthony Plant lyrics (1971):
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings ...

Such wording as that in the biblical Song of Solomon 4:12-13,18 can be brought to life for some more modern listeners if we compare these words with those by the singer Robert Plant in his song: Houses of the Holy, 1975, 'Let me be yours ever truly, Can I make your garden grow, ..., Let me wander in your garden, And the seeds of love I'll sow.' In the King James Version of this in the bible, there is: [4:12-13] 'A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; ... Thy plants are an orchard .. with pleasant fruits:' [4:18] 'Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits'.

Vegetal senses in allusions to the generation of shoots, offshoots and offspring are usefully euphemistic, in avoiding direct descriptions of sinful man's carnal flesh; they have long been appropriate to religious love, such as in the 'enclosed garden of the church' or for a monastic setting. Indeed, in translations from Latin into Old English by king Alfred the Great, the word plant is used for God's planted 'craft' alongside biblical usage of the word plant for the founding of a place of prayer or a religion or a church (OED).

In the most populous Plant homeland, there are additional biblical layers of meaning for God's planted people in a planted place, which are found alongside an enchanted planted parkland describing the poetic home of the celebrated Green Knight. In the lands of Dieulacres abbey, evidently the heart of the Plants' main homeland, the Plants can be regarded as God's children, with contemporary usage of the word 'plant' referring to both God's planted vertue (sic) and, a little later, to His planted Word (see illustrated inscription below). These spiritual meanings are made real in substance in the so-called 'exegetic' understandings of late medieval times. This suggests such a meaning relating to Cistercian novices or 'conversi': that is, converted lay brethren [cf. the surname Converse]. In particular, the more abundant evidence of the Plant name in its most populous medieval homeland, suggests a sense of lay brethren, or abbey retainers, who have received God's planted craft well enough to be regarded as abbey offshoots. Hence, as well as a possible metonym for a 'gardener' with its conflict with known occupations, the Plant name is also a metonym for 'One planted with God's craft' including a generative 'kinde-craft'; I discuss such matters further here.

Wincle Chapel in main homeland
Wincle Chapel
Here Doe O Lord Svre Plant thy Word

The balance of the earliest evidence for the most populous Plant homeland fits especially an early attested local sense of plant as a 'seedling or foetus, shoot, offshoot or offspring' forming an ontological metaphor for human life. Since most living Plants descend from this homeland, as judged by y-dna and distribution data, I have outlined the earliest known surviving Plant records ('1360 onwards') in some detail elsewhere on this website; this includes support for a possible sense as a trained 'abbey offshoot', perhaps more specifically one 'planted' around the local moorlands and its fringes to support the economic and neighbouring land rights of the abbey. Along with this, the nearby Longspée-Audley and Warren gentry families, with their Plantegenest descent, could have contributed an Angevin twelfth-century vegetal tradition to this formative name's meaning more widely as well as to the culture which is amply evidenced in particular detail in the Leek-Macclesfield most populous Plant homeland.

The local contemporary Pearl-poetry includes
Gawain-poem manuscript
the epic 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'

Biblical usage of the word plant mixed with a noble vegetal tradition is consistent with the aforesaid 'planted offshoot' meaning for the formative Plant surname. A similar combination of biblical teachings alongside courtly ideals is found in particular in the local homeland medieval writings of the so-called Pearl-poet (also called the Gawain-poet).

Homeland militancy and monks was more
Gawain-poem manuscript
than just fiction around Dieulacres abbey

There is some evidence of miltancy, in the earliest surviving records for the main Plant homeland, in connection with local noble tensions involving Plants as retainers of Dieulacres abbey:

As at April 2023, after considerring afresh all of the many medieval records that I have accumulated over the past quarter of a century, two particular meanings stand out for the Plant name as I outline in detail here: 6(i) sons, heir, young offspring; 6(ii) planter, especially of vines, with early wine trade migrations, vigneron, supplier of products from fermentations – I outline this here.


Read more about the name's origins here for example
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