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FROM BLUE TO PURPLE FLOWERS







"If blue is the favorite color of bees, and if bees have so much to do with the origin of flowers, how is it that there are so few blue ones? I believe the explanation to be that all blue flowers have descended from ancestors in which the flowers were green; or, to speak more precisely, in which the leaves surrounding the stamens and pistil were green; and that they have passed through stages of white or yellow, and generally red, before becoming blue." - Sir John Lubbock in "Ants, Bees, and Wasps." VIRGINIA or COMMON DAY-FLOWER (Commelina Virginica) Spiderwort family Flowers - Blue, 1 in. broad or less, irregular, grouped at end of stem, and upheld by long leaf-like bracts. Calyx of 3 unequal sepals; 3 petals, 1 inconspicuous, 2 showy, rounded. Perfect stamens 3; the anther of 1 incurved stamen largest; 3 insignificant and sterile stamens; 1 pistil. Stem: Fleshy, smooth, branched, mucilaginous. Leaves: Lance-shaped, 3 to 5 in. long, sheathing the stem at base; upper leaves in a spathe-like bract folding like a hood about flowers. Fruit: A 3-celled capsule, seed in each cell. Preferred Habitat - Moist, shady ground. Flowering Season - June - September. Distribution - Southern New York to Illinois and Michigan, Nebraska, Texas, and through tropical America to Paraguay. - Britton and Browne. Delightful Linnaeus, who dearly loved his little joke, himself confesses to have named the day-flowers after three brothers Commelyn, Dutch botanists, because two of them - commemorated in the two showy blue petals of the blossom - published their works; the third, lacking application and ambition, amounted to nothing, like the inconspicuous whitish third petal! Happily Kaspar Commelyn died in 1731, before the joke was perpetrated in "Species Plantarum." In the morning we find the day-flower open and alert-looking, owing to the sharp, erect bracts that give it support; after noon, or as soon as it has been fertilized by the female bees, that are its chief benefactors while collecting its abundant pollen, the lovely petals roll up, never to open again, and quickly wilt into a wet, shapeless mass, which, if we touch it, leaves a sticky blue fluid on our finger-tips. The SLENDER DAY-FLOWER (C. erecta), the next of kin, a more fragile-looking, smaller-flowered, and narrower-leafed species, blooms from August to October, from Pennsylvania southward to tropical America and westward to Texas. SPIDERWORT; WIDOW'S or JOB'S TEARS (Tradescantia Virginiana) Spiderwort family Flowers - Purplish blue, rarely white, showy, ephemeral, 1 to 2 in. broad; usually several flowers, but more drooping buds, clustered and seated between long blade-like bracts at end of stern. Calyx of 3 sepals, much longer than capsule. Corolla of 3 regular petals; 6 fertile stamens, bearded; anthers orange; 1 pistil. Stem: 8 in. to 3 ft. tall, fleshy, erect, mucilaginous, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, long, blade-like, keeled, clasping, or sheathing stem at base. Fruit: 3-celled capsule. Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods, thickets, gardens. Flowering Season - May-August. Distribution - New York and Virginia westward to South Dakota and Arkansas. As so very many of our blue flowers are merely naturalized immigrants from Europe, it is well to know we have sent to England at least one native that was considered fit to adorn the grounds of Hampton Court. John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I, for whom the plant and its kin were named, had seeds sent him by a relative in the Virginia colony; and before long the deep azure blossoms with their golden anthers were seen in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic - another one of the many instances where the possibilities of our wild flowers under cultivation had to be first pointed out to us by Europeans. Like its relative the dayflower, the spiderwort opens for part of a day only. In the morning it is wide awake and pert; early in the afternoon its petals have begun to retreat within the calyx, until presently they become "dissolved in tears," like Job or the traditional widow. What was flower only a few hours ago is now a fluid jelly that trickles at the touch. Tomorrow fresh buds will open, and a continuous succession of bloom may be relied upon for a long season. Since its stigma is widely separated from the anthers and surpasses them, it is probable the flower cannot fertilize itself, but is wholly dependent on the female bees and other insects that come to it for pollen. Note the hairs on the stamens provided as footholds for the bees. The plant is a cousin of the "Wandering Jew" (T. repens), so commonly grown either in water or earth in American sitting-rooms. In a shady lane within New York city limits, where a few stems were thrown out one spring about five years ago, the entire bank is now covered with the vine, that has rooted by its hairy joints, and, in spite of frosts and blizzards, continues to bear its true-blue flowers throughout the summer.





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