(Sisyrinchium angustifolium) Iris family

Flowers - From blue to purple, with a yellow center; a Western

variety, white; usually several buds at the end of stem, between

2 erect unequal bracts; about 1/2 in. across; perianth of 6

spreading divisions, each pointed with a bristle from a notch;

stamens 3, the filaments united to above the middle; pistil 1,

its tip 3-cleft. Stem: 3 to 14 in. tall, pale hoary green, flat,

rigid, 2-edged. Leaves: Grass-like, pale, rigid, mostly from

base. Fruit: 3-celled capsule, nearly globose.

Preferred Habitat - Moist fields and meadows.

Flowering Season - May-August.

Distribution - Newfoundland to British Columbia, from eastern

slope of Rocky Mountains to Atlantic, south to Virginia and


Only for a day, and that must be a bright one, will this "little

sister of the stately blue flag" open its eyes, to close them in

indignation on being picked; nor will any coaxing but the

sunshine's induce it to open them again in water, immediately

after. The dainty flower, growing in dense tufts, makes up in

numbers what it lacks in size and lasting power, flecking our

meadows with purplish ultramarine blue in a sunny June morning.

Later in the day, apparently there are no blossoms there, for all

are tightly closed, never to bloom again. New buds will unfold to

tinge the field on the morrow.

Usually three buds nod from between a pair of bracts, the lower

one of which may be twice the length of the upper one but only

one flower opens at a time. Slight variations in this plant have

been considered sufficient to differentiate several species

formerly included by Gray and other American botanists under the

name of S. Bermudiana.


(Habenaria grandiflora; H. fimbriata of Gray) Orchid family

Flowers - Pink-purple and pale lilac, sometimes nearly white;

fragrant, alternate, clustered in thick, dense spikes from 3 to

15 in. long. Upper sepal and toothed petals erect; the lip of

deepest shade, 1/2 in. long, fan-shaped, 3-parted, fringed half

its length, and prolonged at base into slender, long spur; stamen

united with style into short column; 2 anther sacs slightly

divergent, the hollow between them glutinous, stigmatic. Stem. 1

to 5 ft. high, angled, twisted. Leaves: Oval, large, sheathing

the stem below; smaller, lance-shaped ones higher up; bracts

above. Root: Thick, fibrous.

Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist meadows, muddy places, woods.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - New Brunswick to Ontario; southward to North

Carolina, westward to Michigan.

Because of the singular and exquisitely unerring adaptations of

orchids as a family to their insect visitors, no group of plants

has greater interest for the botanist since Darwin interpreted

their marvelous mechanism, and Gray, his instant disciple,

revealed the hidden purposes of our native American species, no

less wonderfully constructed than the most costly exotic in a

millionaire's hothouse.

A glance at the spur of this orchid, one of the handsomest and

most striking of its clan, and the heavy perfume of the flower,

would seem to indicate that only a moth with a long proboscis

could reach the nectar secreted at the base of the thread-like

passage. Butterflies, attracted by the conspicuous color,

sometimes hover about the showy spikes of bloom, but it is

probable that, to secure a sip, all but possibly the very largest

of them must go to the smaller purple-fringed orchis, whose

shorter spur holds out a certain prospect of reward; for, in

these two cases, as in so many others, the flower's welcome for

an insect is in exact proportion to the length of its visitor's

tongue. Doubtless it is one of the smaller sphinx moths, such as

we see at dusk working about the evening primrose and other

flowers deep of chalice, and heavily perfumed to guide visitors

to their feast, that is the great purple-fringed orchid's

benefactor, since the length of its tongue is perfectly adapted

to its needs. Attracted by the showy, broad lower petal, his

wings ever in rapid motion, the moth proceeds to unroll his

proboscis and drain the cup, that is frequently an inch and a

half deep. Thrusting in his head, either one or both of his

large, projecting eyes are pressed against the sticky

button-shaped disks to which the pollen masses are attached by a

stalk, and as he raises his head to depart, feeling that he is

caught, he gives a little jerk that detaches them, and away he

flies with these still fastened to his eyes.

Even while he is flying to another flower, that is to say, in

half a minute, the stalks of the pollen masses bend downward from

the perpendicular and slightly toward the center, or just far

enough to require the moth, in thrusting his proboscis into the

nectary, to strike the glutinous, sticky stigma. Now, withdrawing

his head, either or both of the golden clubs he brought in with

him will be left on the precise spot where they will fertilize

the flower. Sometimes, but rarely, we catch a butterfly or moth

from the smaller or larger purple orchids with a pollen mass

attached to his tongue, instead of to his eyes; this is when he

does not make his entrance from the exact center - as in these

flowers he is not obliged to do - and in order to reach the

nectary his tongue necessarily brushes against one of the sticky

anther sacs. The performance may be successfully imitated by

thrusting some blunt point about the size of a moth's head, a

dull pencil or a knitting-needle, into the flower as an insect

would enter. Withdraw the pencil, and one or both of the pollen

masses will be found sticking to it, and already automatically

changing their attitude. In the case of the large, round-leaved

orchis, whose greenish-white flowers are fertilized in a similar

manner by the sphinx moth, the anther sacs converge, like little

horns; and their change of attitude while they are being carried

to fertilize another flower is quite as exquisitely exact.

Usually in wetter ground than we find its more beautiful big

sister growing in, most frequently in swamps and bogs, the

SMALLER PURPLE-FRINGED ORCHIS (H. psycodes) lifts its perfumed

lilac spires. Thither go the butterflies and long-lipped bees to

feast in July and August. Inasmuch as without their aid the

orchid must perish from its inability to set fertile seed, no

wonder it woos its benefactors with a showy mass of color,

charming fringes, sweet perfume, and copious draughts of nectar,

and makes their visits of the utmost value to itself by the

ingenious mechanism described above. Here is no waste of pollen;

that is snugly packed in little bundles, ready to be carried off,

but placed where they cannot come in contact with the adjoining

stigma, since every orchid, almost without exception, refuses to

be deteriorated through self-fertilization.

>From New Jersey and Illinois southward, particularly in

mountainous regions, if not among the mountains themselves, the

FRINGELESS PURPLE ORCHIS (H. perarnoena) may be found blooming in

moist meadows through July and August. Moisture, from which to

manufacture the nectar that orchids rely upon so largely to

entice insects to work for them, is naturally a prime necessity;

yet Sprengel attempted to prove that many orchids are gaudy shams

and produce no nectar, but exist by an organized system of

deception. "Scheinsaftblumen" he called them. From the number of

butterflies seen hovering about this fringeless orchis and its

more attractive kin, it is small wonder their nectaries are soon

exhausted and they are accused of being gay deceivers. Sprengel's

much-quoted theory would credit moths, butterflies, and even the

highly intelligent bees with scant sense; but Darwin, who

thoroughly tested it, forever exonerated these insects from

imputed stupidity and the flowers from gross dishonesty. He found

that many European orchids secrete their nectar between the outer

and inner walls of the tube, which a bumblebee can easily pierce,

but where Sprengel never thought to look for it. The large lip of

this orchis is not fringed, but has a fine picotee edge. The

showy violet-purple, long-spurred flowers are alternately set on

a stem that is doing its best if it reach a height of two and a

half feet.


(Brasenia purpurea; B. peltata of Gray) Water-lily family

Flowers - Small, dull purplish, about 1/2 in. across, on stout

footstalks from axils of upper leaves; 3 narrow sepals and

petals; stamens 12 to 18; pistils 4 to 18, forming 1 to 3-seeded

pods. Stem: From submerged rootstock; slender, branching, several

feet long, covered with clear jelly, as are footstalks and lower

leaf surfaces. Leaves: On long petioles attached to center of

underside of leaf, floating or rising, oval to roundish, 2 to 4

in. long, 1 1/2 to 2 in. wide.

Preferred Habitat - Still, rather deep water of ponds and slow


Flowering Season - All summer.

Distribution - Parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia, Nova Scotia

to Cuba, and westward from California to Puget Sound.

Of this pretty water plant Dr. Abbott says, in "Wasteland

Wanderings": "I gathered a number of floating, delicate leaves,

and endeavored to secure the entire stem also; but this was too

difficult a task for an August afternoon. The under side of the

stem and leaf are purplish brown and were covered with

translucent jelly, embedded in which were millions of what I took

to be insects' eggs. They certainly had that appearance. I was

far more interested to find that, usually, beneath each leaf

there was hiding a little pike. The largest was not two inches in

length. When disturbed, they swam a few inches, and seemed wholly

'at sea' if there was not another leaf near by to afford them



(Aquilegia vulgaris) Crowfoot family

Flowers - Showy, blue, purple, or white, 1 1/2 to 2 in. broad, or

about as broad as long; spurs stout and strongly incurved.

General characteristics of plant resembling wild columbine.

Preferred Habitat - Escaped from gardens to woods and fields in

Eastern and Middle States. Native of Europe.

Flowering Season - May-July.

A heavier, less graceful flower than either the wild red and

yellow columbine or the exquisite, long-spurred, blue and white

species (A. coerulea) of the Rocky Mountain region; nevertheless

this European immigrant, now making itself at home here, is a

charming addition to our flora. How are insects to reach the well

of nectar secreted in the tip of its incurved, hooked spur?

Certain of the long-lipped bees, large bumblebees, whose tongues

have developed as rapidly as the flower, are able to drain it.

Hummingbirds, partial to red flowers, fertilize the wild

columbine, but let this one alone. Muller watched a female

bumblebee making several vain attempts to sip this blue one. Soon

the brilliant idea of biting a hole through each spur flashed

through her little brain, and the first experiment proving

delightfully successful, she proceeded to bite holes through

other flowers without first trying to suck them. Apparently she

satisfied her feminine conscience with the reflection that the

flower which made dining so difficult for its benefactors

deserved no better treatment.


(Delphinium Consoilda) Crowfoot family

Flowers - Blue to pinkish and whitish, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long, hung

on slender stems and scattered along spreading branches; 5

petal-like sepals, the rear one prolonged into long, slender,

curving spur; 2 petals, united. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. high.

Leaves: Divided into very finely cut linear segments. Fruit:

Erect, smooth pod tipped with a short beak; open on one side.

Preferred Habitat - Roadsides and fields.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - Naturalized from Europe; from New Jersey

southward, occasionally escaped from gardens farther north.

Keats should certainly have extolled the larkspurs in his sonnet

on blue. No more beautiful group of plants contributes to the

charm of gardens, woods, and roadsides, where some have escaped

cultivation and become naturalized, than the delphinium, that

take their name from a fancied resemblance to a dolphin

(delphin), given them by Linnaeus in one of his wild flights of

imagination. Having lost the power to fertilize themselves,

according to Muller, they are pollenized by both bees and

butterflies, insects whose tongues have kept pace with the

development of certain flowers, such as the larkspur, columbine,

and violet, that they may reach into the deep recesses of the

spurs where the nectar is hidden from all but benefactors.

The TALL WILD LARKSPUR (D. urceolatum; D. exaltatum of Gray)

waves long, crowded, downy wands of intense purplish blue in the

rich woods of Western Pennsylvania, southward to the Carolinas

and Alabama, and westward to Nebraska. Its spur is nearly

straight, not to increase the difficulty a bee must have in

pressing his lips through the upper and lower petals to reach the

nectar at the end of it. First, the stamens successively raise

themselves in the passage back of the petals to dust his head;

then, when each has shed its pollen and bent down again, the

pistil takes its turn in occupying the place, so that a

pollen-laden bee, coming to visit the blossom from an earlier

flower; can scarcely help fertilizing it. It is said there are

but two insects in Europe with lips long enough to reach the

bottom of the long horn of plenty hung by the BEE LARKSPUR (D.

elatum), that we know only in gardens here. Its yellowish bearded

lower petals readily deceive one into thinking a bee has just

alighted there.

>From April to June the DWARF LARKSPUR or STAGGER-WEED (D.

tricorne), which, however, may sometimes grow three feet high,

lifts a loose raceme of blue, rarely white, flowers an inch or

more long, at the end of a stout stem rising from a tuberous

root. Its slightly ascending spur, its three widely spreading

seed vessels, and the deeply cut leaf of from five to seven

divisions are distinguishing characteristics. From Western

Pennsylvania and Georgia to Arkansas and Minnesota it is found in

rather stiff soil. Butterflies, which prefer erect flowers, have

some difficulty to cling while they drain the almost upright

spurs, especially the Papilios, which usually suck with their

wings in motion. But the bees, to which the delphinium are best

adapted, although butterflies visit them quite as frequently,

find a convenient landing place prepared for them, and fertilize

the flower while they sip with ease.

More slender, downy, and dwarf of stem than the preceding is the

CAROLINA LARKSPUR (D. Carolinianum), whose blue flowers, varying

to white, and its very finely cleft leaves, may be found in the

South, on prairies in the North and West, and in the Rocky

Mountain region.