Flowers For Rosa

Rosa Luxemburg found freedom pressing flowers in prison

By Jenny Odell

A pressed flower and leaves
Common hornbeam Carpinus betulus. Fam. : Betulaceae

In April 1915, confined to a Berlin women’s prison for her anti-war activities, the socialist firebrand Rosa Luxemburg wrote to a friend and lover that she’d entered one of the flowers he’d sent her into her herbarium. “That was a greater snowdrop — Leucojum vernum,” she informed him; it was distinguishable from the lesser snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, by the shape and number of leaves. No mere hobby spawned of boredom, botany was an enduring interest of Luxemburg’s, along with geology. The greater snowdrop went into the eleventh of a series of identical notebooks she’d begun years earlier, carefully identifying and labeling hundreds of plant specimens. In prison, she managed to set up a table specifically for the purpose of preserving flowers that arrived in letters or grew on the prison grounds.

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