(Phlox divaricata) Phlox family

Flowers - Pale lilac blue, slightly fragrant, borne on sticky

pedicels, in loose, spreading clusters. Calyx with 5 long, sharp

teeth. Corolla of 5 flat lobes, indented like the top of a heart,

and united into a slender tube; 5 unequal, straight, short

stamens in corolla tube; 1 pistil with 3 stigmas. Stem: to 2 ft.

high, finely coated with sticky hairs above, erect or spreading,

and producing leafy shoots from base. Leaves: Of flowering stem -

opposite, oblong, tapering to a point; of sterile shoots - oblong

or egg-shaped, not pointed, 1 to 2 in. long.

Preferred habitat - Moist, rocky woods.

Flowering Season - April-June.

Distribution - Eastern Canada to Florida, Minnesota to Arkansas.

The merest novice can have no difficulty in naming the flower

whose wild and cultivated relations abound throughout North

America, the almost exclusive home of the genus, although it is

to European horticulturists, as usual the first to see the

possibilities in our native flowers, that we owe the gay hybrids

in our gardens. Mr. Drummond, a collector from the Botanical

Society of Glasgow, early in the thirties sent home the seeds of

a species from Texas, which became the ancestor of the gorgeous

annuals, the Drummond phloxes of commerce today; and although he

died of fever in Cuba before the plants became generally known,

not even his kinsman, the author of "Natural Law in the Spiritual

World," has done more to immortalize the family name.

While the wild blue phlox is sometimes cultivated, it is the

GARDEN PHLOX (P. paniculata), common in woods and thickets from

Pennsylvania to Illinois and southward, that under a gardener's

care bears the large terminal clusters of purple, magenta,

crimson, pink, and white flowers abundant in old-fashioned, hardy

borders. From these it has escaped so freely in many sections of

the North and East as to be counted among the local wildflowers.

Unless the young offshoots are separated from the parent and

given a nook of their own, the flower quickly reverts to the

original type. European cultivators claim that the most brilliant

colors are obtained by crossing annual with perennial phloxes.

WILD SWEET WILLIAM (P. maculata), another perennial much sought

by cultivators, loves the moisture of low woods and the

neighborhood of streams in the Middle and Western States when it

is free to choose its habitat; but it, too, has so freely escaped

from gardens farther north into dry and dusty roadsides, that

anyone who has passed the ruins of Hawthorne's little red cottage

at Lenox, for example, and seen the way his wife's clump of white

phlox under his study window has spread to cover an acre of

hillside, would suppose it to be luxuriating in its favorite

locality. This variety of the species (var. Candida) lacks the

purplish flecks on stem and lower leaves responsible for the

specific name of the type. Pinkish purple or pink blossoms are

borne in a rather narrow, elongated panicle on the typical Sweet


Most members of the phlox family resort to the trick of coating

the upper stem and the peduncles immediately below the flowers

with a sticky secretion in which crawling insects, intent on

pilfering sweets, meet their death, just as birds are caught on

limed twigs. Butterflies, for whom phloxes have narrowed their

tubes to the exclusion of most other insects, are their

benefactors; but long-tongued bees and flies often seek their

nectar. Indeed, the number of strictly butterfly-flowers is

surprisingly small.


(Mertensia Virginica) Borage family

Flowers - Pinkish in bud, afterward purplish blue, fading to

light blue; about 1 in. long, tubular, funnel form, the tube of

corolla not crested; spreading or hanging on slender pedicels in

showy, loose clusters at end of smooth stem from 1 to 2 ft. high;

stamens 5, inserted on corolla; 1 pistil; ovary of 4 divisions.

Leaves: Large, entire, alternate, veiny, oblong or obovate, the

upper ones seated on stem; lower very large ones diminishing

toward base into long petioles; at first rich, dark purple,

afterward pale bluish gray. Fruit: 4 seed-like little nuts,

leathery, wrinkled when mature.

Preferred Habitat - Alluvial ground, low meadows, and along


Flowering Season - March-May.

Distribution - Southern Canada to South Carolina and Kansas, west

to Nebraska; most abundant in middle West.

Not to be outdone by its cousins the heliotrope and the

forget-me-not, this lovely and far more showy spring flower has

found its way into the rockwork and sheltered, moist nooks of

many gardens, especially in England, where Mr. W. Robinson, who

has appealed for its wider cultivation in that perennially

charming book, "The English Flower Garden," says of the

Mertensias: "There is something about them more beautiful in form

of foliage and stem, and in the graceful way in which they rise

to panicles of blue, than in almost any other family....

Handsomest of all is the Virginia cowslip." And yet Robinson

never saw the alluvial meadows in the Ohio Valley blued with

lovely masses of the plant in April.

A great variety of insects visit this blossom, which, being

tubular, conducts them straight to the ample feast; but not until

they have deposited some pollen brought from another flower on

the stigma in their way. The anthers are too widely separated

from the stigma to make self-fertilization likely. Occasionally

one finds the cowslips perforated by clever bumblebees. As only

the females, which are able to sip far deeper cups, are flying

when they bloom, they must be either too mischievous or too lazy

to drain them in the legitimate manner. Butterflies have only to

stand on a flower, not to enter it, in order to sip nectar from

the four glands that secrete it abundantly.

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