WILD BLUE PHLOX
(Phlox divaricata) Phlox family
Flowers - Pale lilac blue, slightly fragrant, borne on sticky
pedicels, in loose, spreading clusters. Calyx with 5 long, sharp
teeth. Corolla of 5 flat lobes, indented like the top of a heart,
and united into a slender tube;
5 unequal, straight, short
stamens in corolla tube; 1 pistil with 3 stigmas. Stem: to 2 ft.
high, finely coated with sticky hairs above, erect or spreading,
and producing leafy shoots from base. Leaves: Of flowering stem -
opposite, oblong, tapering to a point; of sterile shoots - oblong
or egg-shaped, not pointed, 1 to 2 in. long.
Preferred habitat - Moist, rocky woods.
Flowering Season - April-June.
Distribution - Eastern Canada to Florida, Minnesota to Arkansas.
The merest novice can have no difficulty in naming the flower
whose wild and cultivated relations abound throughout North
America, the almost exclusive home of the genus, although it is
to European horticulturists, as usual the first to see the
possibilities in our native flowers, that we owe the gay hybrids
in our gardens. Mr. Drummond, a collector from the Botanical
Society of Glasgow, early in the thirties sent home the seeds of
a species from Texas, which became the ancestor of the gorgeous
annuals, the Drummond phloxes of commerce today; and although he
died of fever in Cuba before the plants became generally known,
not even his kinsman, the author of "Natural Law in the Spiritual
World," has done more to immortalize the family name.
While the wild blue phlox is sometimes cultivated, it is the
GARDEN PHLOX (P. paniculata), common in woods and thickets from
Pennsylvania to Illinois and southward, that under a gardener's
care bears the large terminal clusters of purple, magenta,
crimson, pink, and white flowers abundant in old-fashioned, hardy
borders. From these it has escaped so freely in many sections of
the North and East as to be counted among the local wildflowers.
Unless the young offshoots are separated from the parent and
given a nook of their own, the flower quickly reverts to the
original type. European cultivators claim that the most brilliant
colors are obtained by crossing annual with perennial phloxes.
WILD SWEET WILLIAM (P. maculata), another perennial much sought
by cultivators, loves the moisture of low woods and the
neighborhood of streams in the Middle and Western States when it
is free to choose its habitat; but it, too, has so freely escaped
from gardens farther north into dry and dusty roadsides, that
anyone who has passed the ruins of Hawthorne's little red cottage
at Lenox, for example, and seen the way his wife's clump of white
phlox under his study window has spread to cover an acre of
hillside, would suppose it to be luxuriating in its favorite
locality. This variety of the species (var. Candida) lacks the
purplish flecks on stem and lower leaves responsible for the
specific name of the type. Pinkish purple or pink blossoms are
borne in a rather narrow, elongated panicle on the typical Sweet
Most members of the phlox family resort to the trick of coating
the upper stem and the peduncles immediately below the flowers
with a sticky secretion in which crawling insects, intent on
pilfering sweets, meet their death, just as birds are caught on
limed twigs. Butterflies, for whom phloxes have narrowed their
tubes to the exclusion of most other insects, are their
benefactors; but long-tongued bees and flies often seek their
nectar. Indeed, the number of strictly butterfly-flowers is
VIRGINIA COWSLIP; TREE or SMOOTH LUNGWORT; BLUE-BELLS
(Mertensia Virginica) Borage family
Flowers - Pinkish in bud, afterward purplish blue, fading to
light blue; about 1 in. long, tubular, funnel form, the tube of
corolla not crested; spreading or hanging on slender pedicels in
showy, loose clusters at end of smooth stem from 1 to 2 ft. high;
stamens 5, inserted on corolla; 1 pistil; ovary of 4 divisions.
Leaves: Large, entire, alternate, veiny, oblong or obovate, the
upper ones seated on stem; lower very large ones diminishing
toward base into long petioles; at first rich, dark purple,
afterward pale bluish gray. Fruit: 4 seed-like little nuts,
leathery, wrinkled when mature.
Preferred Habitat - Alluvial ground, low meadows, and along
Flowering Season - March-May.
Distribution - Southern Canada to South Carolina and Kansas, west
to Nebraska; most abundant in middle West.
Not to be outdone by its cousins the heliotrope and the
forget-me-not, this lovely and far more showy spring flower has
found its way into the rockwork and sheltered, moist nooks of
many gardens, especially in England, where Mr. W. Robinson, who
has appealed for its wider cultivation in that perennially
charming book, "The English Flower Garden," says of the
Mertensias: "There is something about them more beautiful in form
of foliage and stem, and in the graceful way in which they rise
to panicles of blue, than in almost any other family....
Handsomest of all is the Virginia cowslip." And yet Robinson
never saw the alluvial meadows in the Ohio Valley blued with
lovely masses of the plant in April.
A great variety of insects visit this blossom, which, being
tubular, conducts them straight to the ample feast; but not until
they have deposited some pollen brought from another flower on
the stigma in their way. The anthers are too widely separated
from the stigma to make self-fertilization likely. Occasionally
one finds the cowslips perforated by clever bumblebees. As only
the females, which are able to sip far deeper cups, are flying
when they bloom, they must be either too mischievous or too lazy
to drain them in the legitimate manner. Butterflies have only to
stand on a flower, not to enter it, in order to sip nectar from
the four glands that secrete it abundantly.
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