LARGE PURPLE GERARDIA
(Gerardia purpurea) Figwort family
Flowers - Bright purplish pink, deep magenta, or pale to whitish,
about 1 in. long and broad, growing along the rigid, spreading
branches. Calyx 5-toothed; corolla funnel-form, the tube much
inflated above and spreading into 5 unequal, rounded lobes,
within, or sometimes downy; 4 stamens in pairs, the
filaments hairy; 1 pistil. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. high, slender,
branches erect or spreading. Leaves: Opposite, very narrow, 1 to
1 1/2 in. long.
Preferred Habitat - Low fields and meadows; moist, sandy soil.
Flowering Season - August-October.
Distribution - Northern United States to Florida, chiefly along
Low-lying meadows gay with gerardias were never seen by that
quaint old botanist and surgeon, John Gerarde, author of the
famous "Herball or General Historie of Plants," a folio of nearly
fourteen hundred pages, published in London toward the close of
Queen Elizabeth's reign. He died without knowing how much he was
to be honored by Linnaeus in giving his name to this charming
Large patches of the lavender-pink gerardia, peeping above the
grass, make the wayfarer pause to feast his eyes, while the
practical bee, meanwhile, takes a more substantial meal within
the spreading funnels. It is his practice to hang upside down
while sucking, using the hairs on the filaments as footholds.
Naturally he receives the pollen on his underside - just where it
will be rubbed off against the stigma impeding his entrance to
the next funnel visited. Any of the very dry pollen that may have
fallen on the hairy filaments drops upon him.
"And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes,"
chanted Wordsworth. It is a special pity to gather the gerardias,
which, as they grow, seem to enjoy life to the full, and when
picked, to be so miserable they turn black as they dry. Like
their relatives the foxgloves, they are difficult to transplant,
because it is said they are more or less parasitic, fastening
their roots on those of other plants. When robbery becomes
flagrant, Nature brands sinners in the vegetable kingdom by
taking away their color, and perhaps their leaves, as in the case
of the broom-rape and Indian pipe; but the fair faces of the
gerardias and foxgloves give no hint of the petty thefts
committed under cover of darkness in the soil below.
The SMALL-FLOWERED GERARDIA (G. Paupercula) so like the preceding
species it was once thought to be a mere variety, ranges westward
as far as Wisconsin, especially about the Great Lakes. But it is
a lower plant, with more erect branches, smaller flowers, quite
woolly within, and with a decided preference for bogs as well as
In salt marshes along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico,
from Maine to Louisiana, the SEA-SIDE GERARDIA (G. maritima)
flowers in midsummer, or a few weeks ahead of the autumnal,
upland species. The plant, which rarely exceeds a foot in height,
is sometimes only four inches above ground; and although at the
North the paler magenta blossoms are only about half the length
of the purple gerardias, in the South they are sometimes quite as
In dry woods and thickets, on banks and hills from Quebec to
Georgia, and westward to the Mississippi we find the SLENDER
GERARDIA (G. tenuifolia), its pale magenta, spotted, compressed
corolla about half an inch long; its very slender, low stem set
with exceedingly narrow leaves.
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