EARDROPS SNAP WEED WILD LADY'S SLIPPER





(Impatiens biflora; I. fulva of Gray) Jewel-weed family



Flowers - Orange yellow, spotted with reddish-brown, irregular, 1

in. long or less, horizontal, 2 to 4 pendent by slender

footstalks on a long peduncle from leaf axils. Sepals, 3,

colored; 1 large, sac-shaped, contracted into a slender incurved

spur and 2-toothed at apex; 2 other sepals small. Petals, 3; 2 of

them 2-cleft into dissimilar lobes; 5 short stamens, 1 pistil.

Stem: 2 to 5 ft. high, smooth, branched, colored, succulent.

Leaves: Alternate, thin, pale beneath, ovate, coarsely toothed,

petioled. Fruit: An oblong capsule, its 5 valves opening

elastically to expel the seeds.

Preferred Habitat - Beside streams, ponds, ditches; moist ground.

Flowering Season - July-October.

Distribution - Nova Scotia to Oregon, south to Missouri and

Florida.



These exquisite, bright flowers, hanging at a horizontal, like

jewels from a lady's ear, may be responsible for the plant's folk

name; but whoever is abroad early on a dewy morning, or after a

shower, and finds notched edges of the drooping leaves hung with

scintillating gems, dancing, sparkling in the sunshine, sees

still another reason for naming this the jewel-weed. In a brook,

pond, spring, or wayside trough, which can never be far from its

haunts, dip a spray of the plant to transform the leaves into

glistening silver. They shed water much as the nasturtium's do.



When the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird flashes northward out of

the tropics to spend the summer, where can he hope to find nectar

so deeply secreted that not even the long-tongued bumblebee may

rob him of it all? Beyond the bird's bill his tongue can be run

out and around curves no other creature can reach. Now the early

blooming columbine, its slender cornucopias brimming with sweets,

welcomes the messenger whose needle-like bill will carry pollen

from flower to flower; presently the coral honeysuckle and the

scarlet painted-cup attract him by wearing his favorite color;

next the jewel-weed hangs horns of plenty to lure his eye; and

the trumpet vine and cardinal flower continue to feed him

successively in Nature's garden; albeit cannas, nasturtiums,

salvia, gladioli, and such deep, irregular showy flowers in men's

flower beds sometimes lure him away. These are bird flowers

dependent in the main on the ruby-throat, which is not to say

that insects never enter them, for they do; only they are not the

visitors catered to. Watch the big, velvety bumblebee approach a

roomy jewel-weed blossom and nearly disappear within. The large

bunch of united stamens, suspended directly over the entrance,

bears copious white pollen. So much comes off on his back that

after visiting a flower or two he becomes annoyed; clings to a

leaf with his fore legs while he thoroughly brushes his back and

wings with his middle and hind pairs, and then collects the

sticky grains into a wad on his feet which he presently kicks off

with disgust to the ground. Examine a jewel-weed blossom to see

that the clumsy bumblebee's pollen-laden back is not so likely to

come in contact with the short five-parted stigma concealed

beneath the stamens, as a hummingbird's slender bill that is

thrust obliquely into the spur while he hovers above.



But, as if the plant had not sufficient confidence in its

visitors to rely exclusively on them for help in continuing the

lovely species, it bears also cleistogamous blossoms that never

open - economical products without petals, which ripen abundant

self-fertilized seed (see white wood sorrel). It is calculated

that each jewel-weed blossom produces about two hundred and fifty

pollen grains; yet each is by no means able to produce seed in

spite of its prodigality. Nevertheless, enough cross-fertilized

seed is set to save the species from the degeneracy that follows

close inbreeding among plants as well as animals. In England,

where this jewel-weed is rapidly becoming naturalized, Darwin

recorded there are twenty plants producing cleistogamous flowers

to one having showy blossoms which, even when produced, seldom

set seed. What more likely, since hummingbirds are confined to

the New World? Therefore why should the plant waste its energy on

a product useless in England? It can never attain perfection

there until hummingbirds are imported, as bumblebees had to be

into Australia before the farmers could harvest seed from their

clover fields (see red clover).



Familiar as we may be with the nervous little seedpods of the

touch-me-not, which children ever love to pop and see the seeds

fly, as they do from balsam pods in grandmother's garden, they

still startle with the suddenness of their volley. Touch the

delicate hair-trigger at the end of a capsule, and the lightning

response of the flying seeds makes one jump. They sometimes land

four feet away. At this rate of progress a year, and with the

other odds against which all plants have to contend, how many

generations must it take to fringe even one mill pond with

jewel-weed; yet this is rapid transit indeed compared with many

of Nature's processes. The plant is a conspicuous sufferer from

the dodder (q.v.).





The PALE TOUCH-ME-NOT (I. aurea; I. pallida of Gray) most

abundant northward, a larger, stouter species found in similar

situations, but with paler yellow flowers only sparingly dotted

if at all, has its broader sac-shaped sepal abruptly contracted

into a short, notched, but not incurved spur. It shares its

sister's popular names.





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