(Pontederia cordata) Pickerel-weed family
Flowers - Bright purplish blue, including filaments, anthers, and
style; crowded in a dense spike; quickly fading; unpleasantly
odorous. Perianth tubular, 2-lipped, parted into 6 irregular
lobes, free from ovary; middle lobe of upper lip with 2 yellow
base within. Stamens 6, placed at unequal distances on
tube, 3 opposite each lip. Pistil 1, the stigma minutely toothed.
Stem: Erect, stout, fleshy, to 4 ft. tall, not often over 2 ft.
above water line. Leaves: Several bract-like, sheathing stem at
base; leaf only, midway on flower-stalk, thick, polished,
triangular, or arrow-shaped, 4 to 8 in. long, 2 to 6 in. across
Preferred Habitat - Shallow water of ponds and streams.
Flowering Season - June-October.
Distribution - Eastern half of United States and Canada.
Grace of habit and the bright beauty of its long blue spikes of
ragged flowers above rich, glossy leaves give a charm to this
vigorous wader. Backwoodsmen will tell you that pickerels lay
their eggs among the leaves; but so they do among the sedges,
arums, wild rice, and various aquatic plants, like many another
fish. Bees and flies, that congregate about the blossoms to feed,
may sometimes fly too low, and so give a plausible reason for the
pickerel's choice of haunt. Each blossom lasts but a single day;
the upper portion, withering, leaves the base of the perianth to
harden about the ovary and protect the solitary seed. But as the
gradually lengthened spike keeps up an uninterrupted succession
of bloom for months, more than ample provision is made for the
perpetuation of the race - a necessity to any plant that refuses
to thrive unless it stands in water. Ponds and streams have an
unpleasant habit of drying up in summer, and often the pickerel
weed looks as brown as a bulrush where it is stranded in the
baked mud in August. When seed falls on such ground, if indeed it
germinates at all, the young plant naturally withers away.
In the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Mr. W. H. Leggett,
who made a careful study of the flower, tells that three forms
occur, not on the same, but on different plants, being even more
distinctly trimorphic than the purple Loosestrife. As these
flowers set no seed without insects' aid, the provisions made to
secure the greatest benefit from their visits are marvelous. Of
the three kinds of blossoms, one raises its stigma on a long
style reaching to the top of the flower; a second form lifts its
stigma only halfway up, and the third keeps its stigma in the
bottom of the tube. Now, there are two sets of stamens, three in
each set bearing pollen grains of different size and value.
Whenever the stigma is high, the two sets of stamens keep out of
its way by occupying the lowest and middle positions, or just
where the stigmas occur in the two other forms; or, let us say,
whenever the stigma is in one of the three positions, the
different sets of stamens occupy the other two. In a long series
of experiments on flowers occurring in two and three forms -
dimorphic and trimorphic - Darwin proved that perfect fertility
can be obtained only when the stigma in each form is pollenized
with grains carried from the stamens of a corresponding height.
For example, a bee on entering the flower must get his abdomen
dusted with pollen from the long stamens, his chest covered from
the middle-length stamens, and his tongue and chin from the set
in the bottom of the tube nearest the nectary. When he flies off
to visit another flower, these parts of his body coming in
contact with the stigmas that occupy precisely the position where
the stamens were in other individuals, he necessarily brushes off
each lot of pollen just where it will do the most good. Pollen
brought from high stamens, for example, to a low stigma, even
should it reach it, which is scarcely likely, takes little or no
effect. Thus cross-fertilization is absolutely essential, and in
three-formed flowers there are two chances to one of securing it.
WILD HYACINTH, SCILLA or SQUILL. QUAMASH
(Quamasia kyacinthina; Scilla Fraseri of Gray) Lily family
Flowers - Several or many, pale violet blue, or rarely white, in
a long, loose raceme; perianth of 6 equal, narrowly oblong,
widely spreading divisions, the thread-like filaments inserted at
their bases; style thread-like, with 3-lobed stigma. Scape: 1 to
2 ft. high, from egg-shaped, nearly black bulb, 1 to 1 1/2 in.
long. Leaves: Grass-like, shorter than flowering scape, from the
base. Fruit: A 3-angled, oval capsule containing shining black
Preferred Habitat - Meadows, prairies, and along banks of
Flowering Season - April-May.
Distribution - Pennsylvania and Ohio westward to Minnesota, south
to Alabama and Texas.
Coming with the crocuses, before the snow is off the ground, and
remaining long after their regal gold and purple chalices have
withered, the Siberian scillas sold by seedsmen here deserve a
place in every garden, for their porcelain-blue color is rare as
it is charming; the early date when they bloom makes them
especially welcome; and, once planted and left undisturbed, the
bulbs increase rapidly, without injury from overcrowding.
Evidently they need little encouragement to run wild.
Nevertheless they are not wild scillas, however commonly they may
be miscalled so. Certainly ladies' tresses, known as wild
hyacinth in parts of New England, has even less right to the
Our true native wild hyacinth, or scilla, is quite a different
flower, not so pure a blue as the Siberian scilla, and paler; yet
in the middle West, where it abounds, there are few lovelier
sights in spring than a colony of these blossoms directed
obliquely upward from slender, swaying scapes among the lush
grass. Their upward slant brings the stigma in immediate contact
with an incoming visitor's pollen-laden body. As the stamens
diverge with the spreading of the divisions of the perianth, to
which they are attached, the stigma receives pollen brought from
another flower, before the visitor dusts himself anew in
searching for refreshment, thus effecting cross-pollination.
Ants, bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, and beetles may be seen
about the wild hyacinth, which is obviously best adapted to the
bees. The smallest insects that visit it may possibly defeat
Nature's plan and obtain nectar without fertilizing the flower,
owing to the wide passage between stamens and stigma. In about an
hour, one May morning, Professor Charles Robertson captured over
six hundred insects, representing thirty-eight distinct species,
on a patch of wild hyacinths in Illinois.
The bulb of a MEDITERRANEAN SCILLA (S. maritima) furnishes the
sourish-sweet syrup of squills used in medicine for bronchial
The GRAPE HYACINTH (Muscari botrycides), also known as Baby's
Breath, because of its delicate faint fragrance, escapes from
gardens at slight encouragement to grow wild in the roadsides and
meadows from Massachusetts to Virginia and westward to Ohio. Its
tiny, deep-blue, globular flowers, stiffly set around a fleshy
scape that rises between erect, blade-like, channeled leaves,
appear spring after spring wherever the small bulbs have been
planted. On the east end of Long Island there are certain meadows
literally blued with the little runaways.
PURPLE TRILLIUM, ILL-SCENTED WAKE-ROBIN or BIRTH-ROOT
(Trillium erectum) Lily-of-the-Valley family
Flowers - Solitary, dark, dull purple, or purplish red; rarely
greenish, white, or pinkish; on erect or slightly inclined
footstalk. Calyx of 3 spreading sepals, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long, or
about length of 3 pointed, oval petals; stamens 6; anthers longer
than filaments; pistil spreading into 3 short, recurved stigmas.
Stem: Stout, 8 to i6 in. high, from tuber-like rootstock. Leaves:
In a whorl of 3; broadly ovate, abruptly pointed, netted-veined.
Fruit: A 6-angled, ovate, reddish berry.
Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods.
Flowering Season - April-June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia westward to Manitoba, southward to
North Carolina and Missouri.
Some weeks after the jubilant, alert robins have returned from
the South, the purple trillium unfurls its unattractive,
carrion-scented flower. In the variable colors found in different
regions, one can almost trace its evolution from green, white,
and red to purple, which, we are told, is the course all flowers
must follow to attain to blue. The white and pink forms, however
attractive to the eye, are never more agreeable to the nose than
the reddish-purple ones. Bees and butterflies, with delicate
appreciation of color and fragrance, let the blossom alone, since
it secretes no nectar; and one would naturally infer either that
it can fertilize itself without insect aid - a theory which
closer study of its organs goes far to disprove - or that the
carrion-scent, so repellent to us, is in itself an attraction to
certain insects needful for cross-pollination. Which are they?
Beetles have been observed crawling over the flower, but without
effecting any methodical result. One inclines to accept Mr.
Clarence M. Weed's theory of special adaptation to the common
green flesh-flies (Lucilia carnicina), which would naturally be
attracted to a flower resembling in color and odor a raw
beefsteak of uncertain age. These little creatures, seen in every
butcher shop throughout the summer, the flower furnishes with a
free lunch of pollen in consideration of the transportation of a
few grains to another blossom. Absence of the usual floral
attractions gives, the carrion flies a practical monopoly of the
pollen food, which no doubt tastes as it smells.
The SESSILE-FLOWERED WAKE-ROBIN (T. sessile), whose dark purple,
purplish-red, or greenish blossom, narrower of sepal and petals
than the preceding, is seated in a whorl of three egg-shaped,
sometimes blotched, leaves, possesses a rather pleasant odor;
nevertheless it seems. to have no great attraction for insects.
The stigmas, which are very large, almost touch the anthers
surrounding them; therefore the beetles which one frequently sees
crawling over them to feed on the pollen so jar them, no doubt,
as to self-fertilize the flower; but it is scarcely probable
these slow crawlers often transfer the grains from one blossom to
another. A degraded flower like this has little need of color and
perfume, one would suppose; yet it may be even now slowly
perfecting its way toward an ideal of which we see a part only
complete. In deep, rich, moist woods and thickets the. sessile
trillium blooms in April or May, from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and
Minnesota southward nearly to the Gulf.
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