(Linaria Linaria; L. vulgaris of Gray) Figwort family
Flowers - Light canary yellow and orange, 1 in. long or over,
irregular, borne in terminal, leafy-bracted spikes. Corolla
spurred at the base, 2-lipped, the upper lip erect, 2-lobed; the
lower lip spreading, 3-lobed, its base
an orange-colored palate
closing the throat; 4 stamens in pairs within; 1 pistil. Stem: 1
to 3 ft. tall, slender, leafy. Leaves: Pale, grass-like.
Preferred Habitat - Wasteland, roadsides, banks, fields.
Flowering Season - June-October.
Distribution - Nebraska and Manitoba, eastward to Virginia and
Nova Scotia. Europe and Asia.
An immigrant from Europe, this plebeian perennial, meekly content
with waste places, is rapidly inheriting the earth. Its beautiful
spikes of butter-colored cornucopias, apparently holding the yolk
of a diminutive Spanish egg, emit a cheesy odor, suggesting a
close dairy. Perhaps half the charm of the plant consists in the
pale bluish-green grass-like leaves with a bloom on the surface,
which are put forth so abundantly from the sterile shoots. (See
Guided by the orange palate pathfinder to where the curious,
puzzling flower opens, the big velvety bumblebee alights, his
weight depressing the lower lip until a comfortable entrance
through the gaping mouth is offered him. In he goes, and his long
tongue readily reaches the nectar in the deep spur, while his
back brushes off pollen from the stamens in his way overhead.
Then he backs out, and the gaping mouth springs shut after him -
for the linaria is akin to the snapdragon in the garden. As its
stamens are of two lengths, the flower is able to fertilize
itself in stormy weather, insects failing to transfer its pollen.
To drain ten of these spurs a minute is no difficult task for the
bumblebee. But how slowly, painfully, the little lightweight
hive-bees and leaf-cutters squeeze in between the tight lips. An
occasional butterfly inserts its long, thin tongue, and, without
transferring a grain of pollen for the flower, robs it of sweets
clearly intended for the bumblebee alone. Even when ants - the
worst pilferers extant - succeed in entering, they cannot reach
the nectar, owing to the hairy stockade bordering the groove
where it runs. Beetles, out for pollen, also occasionally steal
an entrance, if nothing more. Grazing cattle let the plant alone
to ripen seed in peace, for it secretes disagreeable juices in
its cells - juices that were once mixed with milk by farmers'
wives to poison flies.
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