(Prunella vulgaris) Mint family

Flowers - Purple and violet, in dense spikes, somewhat resembling

a clover head; from 1/2 to 1 in. long in flower, becoming 4 times

the length in fruit. Corolla tubular, irregularly 2-lipped, the

upper lip darker and hood-like; the lower one 3-lobed, spreading,

the middle and largest lobe fringed; 4 twin-like stamens

ascending under upper lip; filaments ofthe lower and longer pair

2-toothed at summit, one of the teeth bearing an anther, the

other tooth sterile; style thread-like, shorter than stamens, and

terminating in a 2-cleft stigma. Calyx 2-parted, half the length

of corolla, its teeth often hairy on edges. Stem: 2 in. to 2 ft.

high, erect or reclining, simple or branched. Leaves: Opposite,

oblong. Fruit: 4 nutlets, round and smooth.

Preferred Habitat - Fields, roadsides, waste places.

Flowering Season - May-October.

Distribution - North America, Europe, Asia.

This humble, rusty green plant, weakly lopping over the

surrounding grass, so that often only its insignificant purple,

clover-like flower heads are visible, is another of those

immigrants from the old countries which, having proved fittest in

the fiercer struggle for existence there, has soon after its

introduction here exceeded most of our more favored native

flowers in numbers. Everywhere we find the heal-all, sometimes

dusty and stunted by the roadside, sometimes truly beautiful in

its fresh purple, violet, and white when perfectly developed

under happy conditions. In England, where most flowers are deeper

hued than with us, the heal-all is rich purple. What is the

secret of this flower's successful march across three continents?

As usual, the chief reason is to be found in the facility it

offers insects to secure food; and the quantity of fertile seed

it is therefore able to ripen as the result of their visits is

its reward. Also, its flowering season is unusually long, and it

is a tireless bloomer. It is finical in no respect; its sprawling

stems root easily at the joints, and it is very hardy.

Several species of bumblebees enter the flower, which being set

in dense clusters enables them to suck the nectar from each with

the minimum loss of time, the smaller bee spending about two

seconds to each. After allowing for the fraction of time it takes

him to sweep his eyes and the top of his head with his forelegs

to free them from the pollen which must inevitably be shaken from

the stamen in the arch of the corolla as he dives deeply after

the nectar in the bottom of the throat, and to pass the pollen,

just as honeybees do, with the most amazing quickness, from the

forelegs to the middle ones, and thence to the hairy "basket" on

the hind ones - after making all allowances for such delays, this

small worker is able to fertilize all the flowers in the fullest

cluster in half a minute! When the contents of the baskets of two

different species of bumblebees caught on this blossom were

examined under the microscope, the pollen in one case proved to

be heal-all, with some from the goldenrod, and a few grains of a

third kind not identified; and in the other case; heal-all pollen

and a small proportion of some unknown kind. Bees that are

evidently out for both nectar and pollen on the same trip have

been detected visiting white and yellow flowers on their way from

one heal-all cluster to another; and this fact, together with the

presence of more than one kind of pollen in the basket, shows

that the generally accepted statement that bees confine

themselves to flowers of one kind or color during a trip is not

always according to fact.

The older name of the plant, Brunella, and the significant one,

altered by Linnaeus into the softer sound it now bears, is

doubtless derived from the German word, braune, the quinsy.

Quaint old Parkinson reads: "This is generally called prunella

and brunella from the Germans who called it brunellen, because it

cureth that disease which they call die bruen, common to soldiers

in campe, but especially in garrison, which is an inflammation of

the mouth, throat, and tongue." Among the old herbalists who

pretended to cure every ill that flesh is heir to with it, it was

variously known as carpenter's herb, sicklewort, hook-heal,

slough-heal, and brownwort.


(Hedeoma pulegioides) Mint family

Flowers - Very small, bluish purple, clustered in axils of upper

leaves. Calyx tubular, unequally 5-cleft; teeth of upper lip

triangular, hairy in throat. Corolla 2-lipped, upper lip erect,

notched; lower one 3-cleft, spreading; 2 anther-bearing stamens

under upper lip; 2 sterile but apparent; 1 pistil with 2-cleft

style. Stem: Low, erect, branched, square, hairy, 6 to 18 in.

high. Leaves: Small, opposite, ovate to oblong, scantily toothed,

strongly aromatic, pungent.

Preferred Habitat - Dry fields, open woodland.

Flowering Season - July-September.

Distribution - Cape Breton Island westward to Nebraska, south to


However insignificant its flower, this common little plant

unmistakably proclaims its presence throughout the neighborhood.

So powerful is the pungent aroma of its leaves that dog doctors

sprinkle them about freely in the kennels to kill fleas, a pest

by no means exterminated in Southern Europe, however, where the

true pennyroyal of commerce (Mentha Pulegium) is native. Herb

gatherers who collect our pennyroyal, that is so similar to the

European species it is similarly employed in medicine, say they

can scent it from a greater distance than any other plant.

BASTARD PENNYROYAL, which, like the Self-heal, is sometimes

called BLUE CURLS (Trichostema dichotomum), chooses dry fields,

but preferably sandy ones, where we find its abundant, tiny blue

flowers, that later change to purple, from July to October. Its

balsam-like odor is not agreeable, neither has the plant beauty

to recommend it; yet where it grows, from Maine to Florida, and

west to Texas, it is likely to be so common we cannot well pass

it unnoticed. The low, stiff, slender, much-branched, and rather

clammy stem bears opposite, oblong, smooth-edged leaves narrowed

into petioles. One, two, or three flowers, borne at the tips of

the branches, soon fall off, leaving the 5-cleft calyx to cradle

four exposed nutlets.

>From the five-lobed tubular corolla protrude four very long,

curling, blue or violet stamens - hair stamens the Greek generic

title signifies - and the pretty popular name of blue curls also

has reference to these conspicuous filaments that are spirally

coiled in the bud.

In general habit like the two preceding plants, the FALSE

PENNYROYAL (Isanthus brachiatus) nevertheless prefers that its

sandy home should be near streams. From Quebec to Georgia,

westward to Minnesota and Texas, it blooms in midsummer, lifting

its small, tubular, pale blue flowers from the axils of pointed,

opposite leaves. An unusual characteristic in one of the mint

tribe is that the five sharp lobes of its bell-shaped calyx, and

the five rounded, spreading lobes of the corolla, are of equal

length, hence its Greek name signifying an equal flower.


(Thymus Serpyllum) Mint family

Flowers - Very small purple or pink purple, fragrant, clustered

at ends of branches or in leaf axils. Hairy calyx and corolla

2-lipped, the latter with lower lip 3-cleft; stamens 4; style

2-cleft. Leaves: Oblong, opposite, aromatic. Stem: 4 to 12 in.

long) creeping, woody, branched, forming dense cushions.

Preferred Habitat - Roadsides, dry banks, and waste places.

Flowering Season - June-September.

Distribution - Naturalized from Europe. Nova Scotia to Middle


"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows;

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine."

- A Midsummer Night's Dream.

According to Danish tradition, anyone waiting by an elder-bush on

Midsummer Night at twelve o'clock will see the king of fairyland

and all his retinue pass by and disport themselves in favorite

haunts, among others the mounds of fragrant wild thyme. How well

Shakespeare knew his folklore!

Thyme is said to have been one of the three plants which made the

Virgin Mary's bed. Indeed, the European peasants have as many

myths as there are quotations from the poets about this classic

plant. Its very name denotes that it was used as an incense in

Greek temples. No doubt it was the Common Thyme (T. vulgaris), an

erect, tall plant cultivated in gardens here as a savory, that

Horace says the Romans used so extensively for bee culture.

Dense cushions of creeping thyme usually contain two forms of

blossoms on separate plants - hermaphrodite (male and female

which are much the commoner; and pistillate, or only female,

flowers, in which the stamens develop no pollen. The latter are

more fertile; none can fertilize itself. But blossoms so rich in

nectar naturally attract quantities of insects - bees and

butterflies chiefly. A newly opened hermaphrodite flower, male on

the first day, dusts its visitors as they pass the ripe stamens.

This pollen they carry to a flower two days old, which, having

reached the female stage, receives it on the mature two-cleft

stigma, now erect and tall, whereas the stamens are past



(Mentha spicata; M. viridis of Gray) Mint family

Flowers - Small, pale bluish, or pinkish purple, in whorls,

forming terminal, interrupted, narrow spikes, 2 to 4 in. long in

fruit, the central one surpassing lateral ones. Calyx

bell-shaped, toothed; corolla tubular, 4-cleft. Stamens 4; style

2-cleft. Stem: Smooth, 1 to 1 1/2 ft. high, branched. Leaves:

Opposite, narrowly oblong, acute, saw-edged, aromatic.

Preferred Habitat - Moist soil.

Flowering Season - July-September.

Distribution - Eastern half of Canada and United States. Also

Europe and Asia.

The poets tell us that Proserpine, Pluto's wife, in a fit of

jealousy changed a hated rival into the mint plant, whose name

Mentha, in its Latin form, or Minthe, the Greek equivalent, is

still that of the metamorphosed beauty, a daughter of Cocytus,

who was also Pluto's wife. Proserpine certainly contrived to keep

her rival's memory fragrant. But how she must delight in seeing

her under the chopping-knife and served up as sauce!

It is a curious fact that among the Labiates, or two-lipped

blossoms to which thymes and mints belong, there very frequently

occur species bearing flowers that are male on the first day

(staminate) and female, or pistillate, on the second day, and

also smaller female flowers on distinct plants. Muller believed

this plan was devised to attract insects, first by the more showy

hermaphrodite flower, that they might carry its pollen to the

less conspicuous female flower, which they would naturally visit

last; but this interesting theory has yet to be proved. Nineteen

species of flies, to which the mints are specially adapted, have

been taken in the act of transferring pollen. Ten varieties of

the lower hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and others) commonly resort

to the fragrant spikes of bloom.

PEPPERMINT (M. piiterita), similar in manner of growth to the

preceding, is another importation from Europe now thoroughly at

home here in wet soil. The volatile oil obtained by distilling

its leaves has long been an important item of trade in Wayne

County, New York. One has only to crush the leaves in one's hand

to name the flower.

Our native WILD MINT (M. Canadensis), common along brook-sides

and in moist soil from New Brunswick to Virginia and far

westward, has its whorls of small purplish flowers seated in the

leaf axils. Its odor is like pennyroyal. The true PENNYROYAL, not

to be confused with our spurious woodland annual, is M. Pulegium,

a native of Europe, whence a number of its less valuable

relatives, all perennials, have traveled to become naturalized


In dry open woods and thickets and by the roadside, from late

August throughout September, we find blooming the aromatic


(Cunila origanoides; C. Mariana of Gray). Its small pink-purple,

lilac, or whitish flowers, that are only about half as long as

the protruding pair of stamens, are borne in loose terminal

clusters at the ends of the stiff, branched, slender, sometimes

reddish, stem. A pair of rudimentary, useless stamens remain

within the two-lipped tube; the exserted pair, affording the most

convenient alighting place for the visiting flies, dust their

undersides with pollen the first day the flower opens; on the

next, the stigma will be ready to receive pollen carried from

young flowers.