Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres*

with 34 comments

Gall and New Read Oak Leaves 6647

The leaves of young red oak trees may be divided into parts, but I haven’t seen any galls that are. And what, you may wonder, is a gall? I’ll let a page from Brandeis University or another from the University of Minnesota do the talking for me. You may also be intrigued to learn that ink made from oak galls “was the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe, from about the 5th century to the 19th century, and remained in use well into the 20th century.”

I found a bunch of particularly appealing spotted galls, including this one, when I wandered in the greenbelt on the north side of Old Lampasas Trail on April 2. I’d gone back to see if any more morel mushrooms had materialized; they hadn’t, but the oak galls were at least as photogenic.


* So wrote Julius Caesar at the beginning of his Gallic Wars. English translators have traditionally rendered the line as “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” Now that I’ve used the Latin quotation as a title, I expect to get some hits from searchers who’ll be surprised to find a gall rather than Gaul.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 23, 2014 at 6:01 AM

34 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. oooo cool, I just went off and I learned how to make the ink!


    April 23, 2014 at 6:25 AM

  2. i actually recognized your title line from high school latin! I was a geeky oddball and one of six students who took latin all four years. Never regretted it, either…what an enormous help it’s been understanding root words and languages in general.
    Re: galls…we spent a day learning about them in Master Gardener training. A prof came down from Univ of Fl. with a big box of “teaching galls” and we got to examine and handle them. Fascinating stuff!
    Great post!


    April 23, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    • Welcome, fellow geek. I took three years of Latin in high school. Even though I was in a large suburban school with 2000 students (counting the junior high students in it), my Latin 2 class didn’t end up with enough kids wanting Latin 3 the following fall. Those of us who did had to sit out that next year until the Latin 1 class behind us finished Latin 2 as well, and then together there were enough of us wanting Latin 3 for the school administrators to feel justified in offering the class. But for that, I might have followed your model of 4 years. Lucky for you that your school allowed a class with only six students in it. In any case, that knowledge of Latin has helped me a lot with scientific names. The process has even worked in reverse, and I’ve learned some new (to me) Latin from scientific names I’ve encountered.

      I’ve never heard of a box of “teaching galls,” but it’s a nice idea. Maybe everyone should carry around a box of curiosities from nature to show other people. That would sure beat small talk, wouldn’t it?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  3. The internet tells me William Shakespeare died on April 23 in the year 1616 (the same year as Cervantes.) Curious timing of your post as I imagine now that perhaps the ink from his quill may have come from these “galls.” Interesting title, interesting information and very curious photo today.


    April 23, 2014 at 7:08 AM

    • That’s an excellent connection, Georgette. Beyond the ink that those great writers probably used, you remind me that Shakespeare wrote a play about the death of Julius Caesar (which I read in high school English class at the same time I was taking Latin 2).

      As for the gall that’s the ostensible subject of today’s post, it does look strange, doesn’t it? I don’t know why there are red spots on the gall, but I suspect it has something to do with the red of the red oak itself. Most oak galls I’ve seen don’t have spots.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2014 at 7:41 AM

  4. I have many galls on a small oak out back. I will try to find the pictures and point you to them. But, not with this iPad.

    I have learned a few things incidently about latin over years. My first exposure was as an altar boy in church. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    Jim in IA

    April 23, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    • Ego te perdono, Iacome.
      I also look forward to seeing your variety of galls.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2014 at 7:45 AM

      • Galls on a small oak. These were taken in Sep. 2012. The galls were less numerous last year.

        Jim in IA

        April 23, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        • I’ve seen galls that look like the ones in your first two photos, but not the third. I’ve read that there are zillions of kinds, so it’s not surprising to see new ones.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 23, 2014 at 10:55 AM

          • There is one on an oak near where we walk that is nearly 18″ across. The trunk passes through the center. I will take the camera along sometime for a picture of it.

            I guess they do little or no harm.

            Jim in IA

            April 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM

  5. great ‘gall’ and most interesting learning about it


    April 23, 2014 at 7:36 AM

  6. This the prettiest tumor I’ve ever seen. 😉

    Angelina Reese

    April 23, 2014 at 11:06 AM

  7. Surprised, and maybe a bit delighted at the pun across two languages and science.

    Ed Darrell

    April 23, 2014 at 2:09 PM

    • Thanks for letting me know about the delight that accompanied the surprise, and for appreciating the trans-language pun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2014 at 2:18 PM

  8. Galls are quite fascinating! There are so many different ones. Love the spots on this one 🙂

  9. Great photo and interesting post. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    April 23, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    • I was pleased with how well the picture came out, even in low light. There’s a lot to learn about galls, that’s for sure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2014 at 3:28 PM

  10. Very photogenic indeed. It reminds me almost of a Christmas tree ornament…

    Journey Photographic

    April 23, 2014 at 6:28 PM

  11. A beautiful photo. How galling it would be if you made a mistake whilst writing with iron gall ink.


    April 24, 2014 at 5:02 AM

    • Thanks. I’m fond of this photo too.

      What is anything but galling, at least to those with an etymological bent, is the fact that the verb to gall may have come from the noun gall in the sense of ‘a skin sore.’

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 5:15 AM

      • Ah yes. Do you think scribes ever got galls on their fingers from writing too much? I know the scribes who wrote with red ink got lead poisoning. And did scribes get galls from sitting too long at their desks?


        April 24, 2014 at 6:10 AM

        • Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines this kind of gall as ‘a sore on the skin, esp. of a horse’s back, caused by rubbing or chafing.’ In an older dictionary I found the definition ‘an excrescence under the tongue of horses.’ I didn’t find examples referring to people, but I didn’t search very long.

          Let me add that the gall that means ‘bile’ is a different word.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 24, 2014 at 7:41 AM

  12. […] I was photographing galls on an oak tree, as you saw last time, a tiny clump of debris on the trunk of the tree caught my eye. To my […]

  13. This will teach me to dally with my comments! I was going to suggest that those who arrived searching for Gaul might be galled to find galls, but that little bit of linguistic fun has been pretty fully explored.

    After reading about the ink, I did wonder about St. Gall, one of the abbeys which was famous for the copying of manuscripts. As it turns out, it took its name from an Irish monk named Gallus. Whether the good brothers obtained the ink for their work from galls, I’ve not been able to determine.

    What I am certain of is that I’ve never seen such an attractive gall. It really is unusual. I love the way its spots mimic the color of the leaves.


    April 24, 2014 at 7:21 AM

    • Ah, this time your dallying galled you, but there’ll be plenty of other chances for wordplay.

      I’d say that the Irish monk you mentioned was called Gallus because he was a Gaul, which is to say a Celt. The Romans, of course, defeated the Celts in Gallia and eventually Latin became the language there.

      And yes, I’ll agree with you that this is the most attractive gall I’ve ever seen, especially because the spots harmonize with the tree’s new leaves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 8:58 AM

  14. […] The literal translation of this bad Latin is: “The rooster is division into three parts.” I’d used the correct Latin quotation as the title of a post about a gall in an oak tree. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: