LIGHTNING PLANT, SIMPLER'S JOY, and so on through a long list of

popular names for the most part testifying to the plant's virtue

as a love-philter, bridal token, and general cure-all, has now

become naturalized from the Old World on the Atlantic and Pacific

Slopes; and is rapidly appropriating waste arid cultivated ground

until, in many places, it is truly troublesome. In general habit

like the blue vervain, its flowers are more purplish than blue,

and are scattered, not crowded, along the spikes. The leaves are

deeply, but less acutely, cut.

Ages before Christians ascribed healing virtues to the vervain -

found growing on Mount Calvary, and therefore possessing every

sort of miraculous power, according to the logic of simple

peasant folk - the Druids had counted it among their sacred

plants. "When the dog-star arose from unsunned spots" the priests

gathered it. Did not Shakespeare's witches learn some of their

uncanny rites from these reverend men of old? One is impressed

with the striking similarity of many customs recorded of both.

Two of the most frequently used ingredients in witches' cauldrons

were the vervain and the rue. "The former probably derived its

notoriety from the fact of its being sacred to Thor, an honor

which marked it out, like other lightning plants, as peculiarly

adapted for occult uses," says Mr. Thiselton Dyer in his

"Folk-lore of Plants." "Although vervain, therefore, as the

enchanter's plant, was gathered by witches to do mischief in

their incantations, yet, as Aubrey says, it 'hinders witches from

their will,' a circumstance to which Drayton further refers when

he speaks of the vervain as ''gainst witchcraft much avayling.'"

Now we understand why the children of Shakespeare's time hung

vervain and dill with a horseshoe over the door.

In his eighth Eclogue, Virgil refers to vervain as a charm to

recover lost love. Doubtless this was the verbena, the herba

sacra employed in ancient Roman sacrifices, according to Pliny.

In his day the bridal wreath was of verbena, gathered by the

bride herself.

NARROW-LEAVED VERVAIN (V. angustifolia), like the blue vervain,

has a densely crowded spike of tiny purple or blue flowers that

quickly give place to seeds, but usually there is only one spike

at the end of a branch. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped,

acute, saw-edged, rough. From Massachusetts and Florida westward

to Minnesota and Arkansas one finds the plant blooming in dry

fields from June to August, after the parsimonious manner of the

vervain tribe.

It is curious that the vervain, or verbena, employed by brides

for centuries as the emblem of chastity, should be one of the

notorious botanical examples of a willful hybrid. Generally, the

individuals of distinct species do not interbreed; but verbenas

are often difficult to name correctly in every case because of

their susceptibility to each other's pollen - the reason why the

garden verbena may so easily be made to blossom forth into

whatever hue the gardener wills. His plants have been obtained,

for the most part, from the large-flowered verbena, the beautiful

purple, blue, or white species of our Western States (V.

Canadensis) crossed with brilliant-hued species imported from

South America.


(Scutellaria lateriflora) Mint family

Flowers - Blue, varying to whitish; several or many, 1/4 in.

long, growing in axils of upper leaves or in 1-sided spike-like

racemes. Calyx 2-lipped, the upper lip with a helmet-like

protuberance; corolla 2-lipped; the lower, 3-lobed lip spreading;

the middle lobe larger than the side ones. Stamens, 4, in pairs,

under the upper lip; upper pair the shorter; one pistil, the

style unequally cleft in two. Stem: Square, smooth, leafy,

branched, 8 in. to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Opposite, oblong to

lance-shaped, thin, toothed, on slender pedicles, 1 to 3 in.

long, growing gradually smaller toward top of stem. Fruit: 4


Preferred Habitat - Wet, shady ground.

Flowering Season - July-September.

Distribution - Uneven throughout United States and the British


By the helmet-like appendage on the upper lip of the calyx, which

to the imaginative mind of Linnaeus suggested Scutellum (a little

dish), which children delight to spring open for a view of the

four tiny seeds attached at the base when in fruit, one knows

this to be a member of the skullcap tribe, a widely scattered

genus of blue and violet two-lipped flowers, some small to the

point of insignificance, like the present species, others showy

enough for the garden, but all rich in nectar, and eagerly sought

by bees. The wide middle lobe of the lower lip forms a convenient

platform on which to alight; the stamens in the roof of a newly

opened blossom dust the back of the visitor as he explores the

nectary; and as the stamens of an older flower wither when they

have shed their pollen, and the style then rises to occupy their

position, it follows that, in flying from the top of one spike of

flowers to the bottom of another, where the older ones are, the

visitor, for whom the whole scheme of color, form, and

arrangement was planned, deposits on the sticky top of the style

some of the pollen he has brought with him and so

cross-fertilizes the flower. When the seeds begin to form and the

now useless corolla drops off, the helmet-like appendage on the

top of the calyx enlarges and meets the lower lip, so enclosing

and protecting the tiny nutlets. After their maturity, either the

mouth gapes from dryness, or the appendage drops off altogether,

from the same cause, to release the seeds. Old herb doctors, who

professed to cure hydrophobia with this species, are responsible

for its English misnomer.

Perhaps the most beautiful member of the genus is the SHOWY

SKULLCAP (S. serrata), whose blue corolla, an inch long, has its

narrow upper lip shorter than the spreading lower one. The

flowers are set opposite each other at the end of the smooth

stem, which rises from one to two feet high in the woods

throughout a southerly and westerly range. As several other

skullcaps have distinctly saw-edged leaves, this plant might have

been given a more distinctive adjective, thinks one who did not

have the naming of 200,000 species!

Above dry, sandy soil from New York and Michigan southward the

HAIRY SKULLCAP (S. pilosa) lifts short racemes of blue flowers

that are only half an inch long, and whose lower lip and lobes at

either side are shorter than the arched upper lip. Most parts of

the plant are covered with down, the lower stem being especially

hairy; and this fact determines the species when connected with

its rather distant pairs of indented, veiny leaves, ranging from

oblong to egg-shaped, and furnished with petioles which grow

gradually shorter toward the top, where pairs of bracts, seated

on the stem, part to let the flowers spring from their axils.

The LARGER or HYSSOP SKULLCAP (S. integrifolia) rarely has a dent

in its rounded oblong leaves ,which, like the stem, are covered

with fine down. Its lovely, bright blue flowers, an inch long,

the lips of about equal length, are grouped opposite each other

at the top of a stem that never lifts them higher than two feet;

and so their beauty is often concealed in the tall grass of

roadsides and meadows and the undergrowth of woods and thickets,

where they bloom from May to August, from southern New England to

the Gulf of Mexico, westward to Texas.

This tribe of plants is almost exclusively North American, but

the hardy MARSH SKULLCAP or HOODED WILLOW-HERB (S. galericulata),

at least, roams over Europe, and Asia also, with the help of

runners, as well as seeds that, sinking into the soft earth of

swamps and the borders of brooks, find growth easy. The blue

flowers which grow singly in the axils of the upper leaves are

quite as long as those of the larger and the showy skullcaps; the

oblong, lance-shaped leaves, which are mostly seated on the

branching stem, opposite each other, have low teeth. Why do

leaves vary as they do, especially in closely allied species?

"The causes which have led to the different forms of leaves have

been, so far as I know," says Sir John Lubbock, "explained in

very few cases: those of the shapes and structure of seeds are

tolerably obvious in some species, but in the majority they are

still entirely unexplained; and, even as regards the blossoms

themselves, in spite of the numerous and conscientious labors of

so many eminent naturalists, there is as yet no single species

thoroughly known to us."


HOBBLEBUSH AMERICAN WAYFARING TREE HONEYSUCKLE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail