(Andromeda Polifolia) Heath family

Flowers - White or pink-tinted, small, round, tubular, 5-toothed

at the tip; drooping from curved footstalks in few-flowered

terminal umbels. Calyx deeply 5-parted; 10 bearded stamens; style

like a column. Stem: A sparingly branched, dwarf shrub, 6 in. to

3 ft. tall. Leaves: Linear to lance-shape, evergreen, dark and

glossy above, with a prominent white bloom underneath, the

margins curled.

Preferred Habitat - Cool bogs, wet places.

Flowering Season - May-June.

Distribution - Pennsylvania and Michigan, far northward.

Only a delightfully imaginative optimist like Linnaeus could feel

the enthusiasm he expended on this dwarf shrub, with its little,

white, heath-like flowers, which most of us consider rather

insignificant, if the truth be told. But then the blossoms he

found in Lapland must have been much pinker than any seen in

American swamps, since they reminded him of "a fine female


"This plant is always fixed on some little turfy hillock in the

midst of the swamps," he wrote, "just as Andromeda herself was

chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet as the fresh

water does the roots of this plant.... As the distressed virgin

cast down her blushing face through excessive affliction, so does

this rosy-colored flower hang its head, growing paler and paler

till it withers away." Under the old go-as-you-please method of

applying scientific names, most of this shrub's relatives shared

with it the name of the fair maid whom Perseus rescued from the


The beautiful, low-growing STAGGERBUSH (Pieris Mariana) has its

small, cylindric, five-parted, white or pink-tinted flowers

clustered at intervals along one side of the upright, nearly

leafless, smooth, dark-dotted branches of the preceding year.

When the glossy oval leaves, black dotted beneath, are freshly

put forth in early summer - for the shrub is not strictly an

evergreen, however late the old leaves may cling - it is said

that stupid sheep and calves, which find them irresistibly

attractive, stagger about from their poisonous effect just as

they do after feeding on this shrub's relative the Lambkill

(q.v.). In sandy soil from southern New England to Florida,

rarely far inland, one finds the staggerbush in bloom from May to

July. On the dry plains of Long Island, where it is common

indeed, it appears a not unworthy relative of the FETTERBUSH

(Pieris fioribunda), that exquisite little evergreen with

quantities of small white urns drooping along its twigs, which

nurserymen acquire from the mountains of our Southern States to

adorn garden shrubbery at home and abroad. Mr. William Robinson,

in his delightful book, "The English Flower Garden" (a book, by

the way, that Rudyard Kipling reads as the Puritan read his

Bible), counts this fetterbush among the "indispensables."

Much taller than the preceding dwarfs is the COMMON PRIVET

ANDROMEDA found in swamps and low ground from New England to the

Gulf and in the southwest (Xolisma ligustrina). Whoever has seen

the privet almost universally grown in hedges is familiar with

the general aspect of this much-branched shrub. Most farmers'

boys know the Andromeda's mock May-apple, a hollow, stringy

growth of insect origin, which they are not likely to confuse

with the pulpy, juicy apple found on the closely related azaleas

(q.v.). Abundant terminal spike-like or branched clusters of

white, globular, four or five parted flowers in close array,

attract quantities of bees from the end of May to early July,

notwithstanding each individual flower measures barely an eighth

of an inch across. We have seen the fine hair-triggers which

other members of this same family, the beautiful pink laurels

(q.v.), have set to be sprung by an incoming visitor. Now this

Andromeda, and similarly several of its immediate kin, have a

quite different, but equally effective, method of throwing pollen

on its friends who come to call. When one of the little banded

bees clings, as he must, to the tiny flower scarce half his size,

thrusting his tongue obliquely through the globe's narrow opening

to reach the nectar, suddenly a shower of pollen is inhospitably

thrown upon him from within. In probing between the ring of

anthers (that are pressed against the style by the S-shaped

curvature of the filaments so as to retain the pollen), he needs

must displace some of them and release the vitalizing dust

through the large terminal pores in the anther-sacs. Is he

discouraged by such rough treatment? Not at all. Off he flies to

another Andromeda blossom, and leaves some of the dust with which

he is powdered on the sticky stigma that impedes his entrance,

before precipitating a fresh shower as he sips another reward.

The straight column-like pistil, stigmatic on its tip only,

allows the flower's own pollen to slide harmlessly down its

sides. How exquisite are the most minute adjustments of floral

mechanism! Is it possible for one to remain an agnostic after the

evidences even the flowers show us of infinite wisdom and love?

Another denizen of swamps and low ground, next of kin to the

trailing arbutus, is the LEATHERLEAF, or DWARF CASSANDRA

(Chamaedaphne calyculata), a modest little shrub, its stiff,

slender branches plentifully set with thick oblong leaves that

grow gradually smaller the higher they go, and when young are

densely covered with minute scurfy scales. Sometimes before the

snow has melted in April, the leafy terminal shoots are hung with

multitudes of little waxy-white, cylindric, typical heath flowers

only about a quarter of an inch long, each nodding from a leaf

axil, and the whole forming one-sided racemes. But as the shrub

ranges from Newfoundland to Georgia, and westward to Illinois,

British Columbia, and Alaska, some people find it blooming even

in July.

Mythological names were evidently in high favor among the

botanists who labeled the genuses comprising the heath family:

Phyllodoce, the sea-nymph; Cassiope, mother of Andromeda;

Leucothoe; Andromeda herself; Pieris, a name sometimes applied to

the Muses from their supposed abode at Pieria, Thessaly; and

Cassandra, daughter of Priam, the prophetess who was shut up in a

mad-house because she prophesied the ruin of Troy - these names

are as familiar to the student of this group of shrubs today as

they were to the devout Greeks in the brave days of old.

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