The Legend of Jenny Green-Teeth
Duckweed is one of Britain’s most common small water plants. It forms a smooth green mat that covers bodies of still water. It has a simple body known as a thallus, which floats on the surface of the water, and a single root which hangs down.
You find duckweed all over London’s canals in August, which might help to explain the extraordinary proliferation of wildfowl we now have on the capital’s waterway system. You can see geese, ducks, moorhens, herons and so many swans that I’m starting to wonder what they taste like.
When covering the entire surface duckweed can make the water appear solid, and in our neighbourhood children sometimes try to walk on it – the canal water levels are very close to the surrounding pathways. In parts of the north-west of England children were scared away from such areas by the myth of Jenny Green-teeth, a pond elf or monster whose presence was indicated by duckweed; she was said to lure children into ponds and drown them.
She’s a figure of English folklore, a river hag similar to the Grindylow or Peg o’ Nell, who will pull children or the elderly into the water and drown them. She has green skin, long hair and razor-sharp teeth. She’s similar to the Slavic Rusalka or Australia’s Bunyip, and is considered a memory of sacrificial practices. She may also lurk in the upper branches of trees at night.
A similar figure in Jamaican folklore is called the River Mumma (River Mother) who lives at the fountainhead of large rivers in Jamaica sitting on top of a rock, combing her long black hair with a gold comb. She usually appears at midday and she disappears if she observes anyone approaching. However, if an intruder sees her first and their eyes meet, terrible things will happen to the intruder.
Perhaps she is related to Jack-In-The-Green, the legendary forest creature of English folklore, a colourful figure almost nine feet tall, covered in greenery and flowers, representations of whom you’ll still find around the country during May Day rites and summer festivals. Room for a story there, I think!