(Gerardia purpurea) Figwort family

Flowers - Bright purplish pink, deep magenta, or pale to whitish,

about 1 in. long and broad, growing along the rigid, spreading

branches. Calyx 5-toothed; corolla funnel-form, the tube much

inflated above and spreading into 5 unequal, rounded lobes,

spotted within, or sometimes downy; 4 stamens in pairs, the

filaments hairy; 1 pistil. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. high, slender,

branches erect or spreading. Leaves: Opposite, very narrow, 1 to

1 1/2 in. long.

Preferred Habitat - Low fields and meadows; moist, sandy soil.

Flowering Season - August-October.

Distribution - Northern United States to Florida, chiefly along

Atlantic coast.

Low-lying meadows gay with gerardias were never seen by that

quaint old botanist and surgeon, John Gerarde, author of the

famous "Herball or General Historie of Plants," a folio of nearly

fourteen hundred pages, published in London toward the close of

Queen Elizabeth's reign. He died without knowing how much he was

to be honored by Linnaeus in giving his name to this charming

American genus.

Large patches of the lavender-pink gerardia, peeping above the

grass, make the wayfarer pause to feast his eyes, while the

practical bee, meanwhile, takes a more substantial meal within

the spreading funnels. It is his practice to hang upside down

while sucking, using the hairs on the filaments as footholds.

Naturally he receives the pollen on his underside - just where it

will be rubbed off against the stigma impeding his entrance to

the next funnel visited. Any of the very dry pollen that may have

fallen on the hairy filaments drops upon him.

"And 'tis my faith that every flower

Enjoys the air it breathes,"

chanted Wordsworth. It is a special pity to gather the gerardias,

which, as they grow, seem to enjoy life to the full, and when

picked, to be so miserable they turn black as they dry. Like

their relatives the foxgloves, they are difficult to transplant,

because it is said they are more or less parasitic, fastening

their roots on those of other plants. When robbery becomes

flagrant, Nature brands sinners in the vegetable kingdom by

taking away their color, and perhaps their leaves, as in the case

of the broom-rape and Indian pipe; but the fair faces of the

gerardias and foxgloves give no hint of the petty thefts

committed under cover of darkness in the soil below.

The SMALL-FLOWERED GERARDIA (G. Paupercula) so like the preceding

species it was once thought to be a mere variety, ranges westward

as far as Wisconsin, especially about the Great Lakes. But it is

a lower plant, with more erect branches, smaller flowers, quite

woolly within, and with a decided preference for bogs as well as

low meadows.

In salt marshes along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico,

from Maine to Louisiana, the SEA-SIDE GERARDIA (G. maritima)

flowers in midsummer, or a few weeks ahead of the autumnal,

upland species. The plant, which rarely exceeds a foot in height,

is sometimes only four inches above ground; and although at the

North the paler magenta blossoms are only about half the length

of the purple gerardias, in the South they are sometimes quite as


In dry woods and thickets, on banks and hills from Quebec to

Georgia, and westward to the Mississippi we find the SLENDER

GERARDIA (G. tenuifolia), its pale magenta, spotted, compressed

corolla about half an inch long; its very slender, low stem set

with exceedingly narrow leaves.