WATER ARUM MARSH CALLA
(Calla palustris) Arum family
Flowers - Minute, greenish yellow, clustered on a cylinder-like,
fleshy spadix about 1 in. long, partly enfolded by a large,
white, oval, pointed, erect spathe, the whole resembling a small
calla lily open in front. The solitary "flower" on
a scape as
long as the petioles of leaves, and, like them, sheathed at base.
Leaves: Thick, somewhat heart-shaped, their spreading or erect
petioles 4 to 8 in. long. Fruit: Red berries clustered in a head.
Preferred Habitat - Cool Northern bogs; in or beside sluggish
Flowering Season - May-June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia southward to Virginia, westward to
Minnesota and Iowa.
At a glance one knows this beautiful denizen of Northern bogs and
ditches to be a poor relation of the stately Ethiopian calla lily
of our greenhouses. Where the arum grows in rich, cool retreats,
it is apt to be abundant, its slender rootstocks running hither
and thither through the yielding soil with thrifty rapidity until
the place is carpeted with its handsome dark leaves, from which
the pure white "flowers" arise; and yet many flower lovers well
up in field practice know it not. Thoreau, for example, was no
longer young when he first saw, or, rather, noticed it. "Having
found this in one place," he wrote, "I now find it in another.
Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of
our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our
intellectual ray. So, in the largest sense, we find only the
world we look for."
Now, the true flowers of the arum and all its spadix-bearing kin
are so minute that one scarcely notices them where they are
clustered on the club-shaped column in the center of the apparent
"flower." The beautiful white banner of the marsh calla, or the
green and maroon striped pulpit from which Jack preaches, is no
more the flower proper than the papery sheath below the daffodil
is the daffodil. In the arum the white advertisement flaunted
before flying insects is not even essential to the florets'
existence, except as it helps them attract their pollen-carrying
friends. Almost all waterside plants, it will be noticed, depend
chiefly upon flies and midges, and these lack aesthetic taste.
"Such plants have usually acquired small and inconspicuous
separate flowers," says Grant Allen; "and then, to make up for
their loss in attractiveness, like cheap sweetmeats, they have
very largely increased their numbers. Or, to put the matter more
simply and physically, in waterside situations those plants
succeed best which have a relatively large number of individually
small and unnoticeable flowers massed together into large and
closely serried bundles. Hence, in such situations, there is a
tendency for petals to be suppressed, and for blossoms to grow
minute; because the large and bright flowers seldom succeed in
attracting big land insects like bees or butterflies, while the
small and thick-set ones usually do succeed in attracting a great
many little flitting midges." Flies, which are guided far more by
their sense of smell than by sight, resort to the petalless,
insignificant florets of the ill-scented marsh calla in numbers;
and as the uppermost clusters are staminate only, while the lower
florets contain stamens and pistil, it follows they must often
effect cross-pollination as they crawl over the spadix. But here
is no trap to catch the tiny benefactors such as is set by wicked
Jack-in-the-pulpit, or the skunk-cabbage, or another cousin, a
still more terrible executioner, the cuckoo-pint (Arum maculatum)
Few coroner's inquests are held over the dead bodies of our
feathered friends; and it is not known whether the
innocent-looking marsh calla really poisons the birds on which it
depends to carry its bright seeds afar or not. The cuckoo-pint,
as is well known, destroys the winged messenger bearing its
offspring to plant fresh colonies in a distant bog, because the
decayed body of the bird acts as the best possible fertilizer
into which the seedling may strike its roots. Most of our noxious
weeds, like our vermin, have come to us from Europe; but Heaven
deliver us from this cannibalistic pest!
The very common GREEN ARROW-ARUM (Peltandra Virginica), found in
shallow water, ditches, swamps, and the muddy shores of ponds
throughout the eastern half of the United States, attracts us
more by its stately growth and the beauty of its bright, lustrous
green arrow-shaped leaves (which have been found thirty inches
long), than by the insignificant florets clustered on the spadix
within a long pointed green sheath that closely enfolds it.
Pistillate florets cover it for only about one-fourth its length.
To them flies carry pollen from the staminate florets covering
the rest of the spadix. After the club is set with green berries
- green, for this plant has no need to attract birds with bright
red ones - the flower stalk curves, bends downward, and the
pointed leathery sheath acting as an auger, it bores a hole into
the soft mud in which the seeds germinate with the help of their
surrounding jelly as a fertilizer.
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