(Triadenum Virginicum; Elodea Virginica of Gray)

St.-John's-wort family

Flowers - Pale magenta, pink, or flesh color, about 1/2 in.

across, in terminal clusters, or from leaf axils. Calyx of 5

equal sepals, persistent on fruit; 5 petals; 9 or more stamens

united in 3 sets; pistil of 3 distinct styles. Stem: to 1 1/2 ft.

high, simple, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, pale, with black,

glandular dots, broadly oblong, entire edged, seated on stem or

clasping by heart-shaped base. Fruit: An oblong, acute, deep red


Preferred Habitat - Swamps and cranberry bogs.

Flowering Season - July-September.

Distribution - Labrador to the Gulf, and westward to Nebraska.

Late in the summer, after the rather insignificant pink flowers

have withered, this low plant, which almost never lacks some

color in its green parts, greatly increases its beauty by tinting

stems, leaves, and seed vessels with red. Like other members of

the family, the flower arranges its stamens in little bundles of

three, and when an insect comes to feast on the abundant pollen -

no nectar being secreted - he cannot avoid rubbing some off on

the stigmas that are on a level with the anthers. He may

sometimes carry pollen from blossom to blossom, it is true, but

certainly the St.-John's-wort takes no adequate precautions

against self-fertilization at any time. Toward the close of its

existence the flower draws its petals together toward the axils,

thus bringing anthers and stigmas in contact.


(Lythrum Salicaria) Loosestrife family

Flowers - Bright magenta (royal purple) or pinkish purple, about

1/2 in. broad, crowded in whorls around long bracted spikes.

Calyx tubular, ribbed, 5 to 7 toothed, with small projections

between. Corolla of 5 or 6 slightly wrinkled or twisted petals.

Stamens, in 2 whorls of 5 or 6 each, and 1 pistil, occurring in

three different lengths. Stem: 2 to 3 ft. high, leafy, branched.

Leaves: Opposite, or sometimes in whorls of 3; lance-shaped, with

heart-shaped base clasping stem.

Preferred Habitat - Wet meadows, watery places, ditches, and

banks of streams.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - Eastern Canada to Delaware, and westward through

Middle States; also in Europe.

Through Darwin's patient study of this trimorphic flower, it has

assumed so important a place in his theory of the origin of

species that its fertilization by insects deserves special

attention. On page 5, the method by which the pickerel weed,

another flower whose stamens and pistil occur in three different

lengths, should be read to avoid much repetition. Now the

loosestrife produces six different kinds of yellow and green

pollen on its two sets of three stamens; and when this pollen is

applied by insects to the stigmatic surface of three different

lengths of pistil, it follows that there are eighteen ways in

which it may be transferred. But Darwin proved that only pollen

brought from the shortest stamens to the shortest pistil, from

the middle-length stamens to the middle-length pistil, and from

the long stamens to the long pistil effectually fertilizes the

flower. And as all the flowers on any one plant are of the same

kind, we have here a marvelous mechanism to secure

cross-fertilization. His experiments with this loosestrife also

demonstrated that "reproductive organs, when of different length,

behave to one another like different species of the same genus in

regard both to direct productiveness and the character of the

offspring; and that consequently mutual barrenness, which was

once thought conclusive proof of difference of species, is

worthless as such, and the last barrier that was raised between

species and varieties is broken down." (Muller.)

Naturally the bright-hued, hospitable flower, which secretes

abundant nectar at the base of its tube, attracts many insects,

among others, bees of larger and middle size, and the butterflies

for which it is especially adapted. They alight on the stamens

and pistil on the upper side of the flower. Those with the

longest tongues stand on one blossom to sip from the next one:

this is the butterfly's customary attitude. But nearly every

visitor comes in contact with at least one set of organs. When

Darwin first interpreted the trimorphism of the loosestrife, we

can realize something of the enthusiasm such a man must have felt

in writing to Gray: "I am almost stark, staring mad over

lythrum.... For the love of Heaven have a look at some of your

species, and if you can get me some seed, do!"

Long ago this beautiful plant reached our shores from Europe, and

year by year is extending its triumphal march westward,

brightening its course of empire through low meadows and marshes

with torches that lengthen even as they glow. It is not a spring

flower, even in England; and so when Shakespeare, whose knowledge

of floral nature was second only to that of human nature, wrote

of Ophelia,

"With fantastic garlands did she come,

Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,"

is it probable he so combined flowers having different seasons of

bloom? Dr. Prior suggests that the purple orchis (0. mascula)

might have been the flower Ophelia wore; but, as long purples has

been the folk name of this loosestrife from time immemorial in

England, it seems likely that Shakespeare for once may have made

a mistake.