POTIRON / foxglove

photo source: wikimedia

potiron“, s.m., pronounced [pɔʊ̯tɪrɔ̃ʊ̯] 🔊, is the Sarkese name for “foxglove” (Digitalis purpurea), a popular, although toxic wild flower of Sark, which blooms in summer all over the island. In 1726, a local specimen of foxglove became probably the very first Sarkese wild flower to be ever recorded and studied by a professional botanist.

origin: Gallo-Romance (obscure) / first recorded for Sarkese: 1930s (JPC) / current status in the 21st century: fully preserved, in use

The name is a countable masculine noun (a he-word that changes in plural), as any other name of flowers in Sarkese ending in ‘-on’. One foxglove is therefore “ûn potiron”, and “some foxgloves” is “dê potirôn” (notice the added diacritic). The pronunciation is regular, although it should be remembered that the plural ending “-ôn” changes its pronunciation depending on its position in a sentence.

The Sarkese “potiron” is directly related to one of the dialectal names for foxgloves in Jersey Norman, “potithon”, and possibly even to the Old French word for mushroom, “potiron”.

On the origin – pot, squash, mushroom, pasture or fart?

The Sarkese name for foxgloves may be related to the obscure French “potiron” which in Modern French means “squash”, a sort of Peruan pumpkin. In Old French, nonetheless, the word “potiron” used to mean “large mushroom” or “mushroom” in general, co-existing with today’s dominant “champignon”.

It is believed that these forms are derived from the word “pot”, which in the case of foxgloves seems fitting, as the plant does look like bearing little pots. Nonetheless, some authors note, that the French “potiron”, with local forms such as “poturon” and “paturon” may indicate that it is derived from the word “pâture”, pasture, which seems more fitting for “potiron”-mushroom, i.e. they grow where animal graze. There are, however, languages in France in which “potiron” is simply a term from special kind of pots – we have to therefore assume a possible coexistence of two homonyms of different origin.

To add to that, in several languages of France, local names for foxgloves are often based on the idea of “fart”, at least according to linguists, and some of the recorded forms are very close to the Sarkese one, such as “petaron” etc. Nevertheless, to simply link the Sarkese “potiron” with these forms would be fairly challenging.

There are three options then: 1) either the word is derived from the word “pot”, pot, or it is a corruption of 2) “pâturon”, derived from “pâture”, pasture, or 3) the hypothetical “pétaron”. The first two options seem relatively plausible, although we incline to the former, but with regard to the dominant third case in the languages of France, it is also possible that our “potiron” is a result of a merger of two or all of these forms.


In 1726, an English botanist and antiquarian Thomas Knowlton (not to be confused with his contemporary namesake who was an American revolutionary) visited Sark where a white specimen of foxglove attracted his attention. Knowlton’s identification of this white foxglove is historically the very first record of a wild flower growing in Sark made by a botanist. Although it has been claimed that foxglove was therefore the very first wild flower ever described in Sark, there had been other mentions with localisations, f.e. by Élŷ Brévîn.


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. potiron/foxglove. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-flora-potiron

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