(Geum strictum) Rose family

Flowers - Golden yellow, otherwise much resembling the lower

growing white avens (q.v.).

Preferred Habitat - Low ground, moist meadows, swamps.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Arizona, far


After the marsh marigolds have withdrawn their brightness from

low-lying meadows, blossoms of yellow avens twinkle in their

stead. In autumn the jointed, barbed styles, protruding from the

seed clusters, steal a ride by the same successful method of

travel to new colonizing ground adopted by burdocks, goose-grass,

tick-trefoils (q.v.), agrimony, and a score of other "tramps of

the vegetable world."


(Agrimonia hirsuta; Eupatoria of Gray) Rose family

Flowers - Yellow, small, 5-parted, in narrow, spike-like racemes.

Stem: Usua11y 3 to 4 ft. tall, sometimes less or more clothed,

with long, soft hairs. Leaves: Large, thin, bright green,

compounded of (mostly) 7 principal oblong, coarsely saw-edged

leaflets, with pairs of tiny leaflets between.

Preferred Habitat - Woods, thickets, edges of fields.

Flowering Season - June-August.

Distribution - North Carolina, westward to California, and far


Quite a different species, not found in this country, is the

common European Agrimony - A. Eupatoria of Linnaeus - which

figures so prominently in the writings of medieval herbalists as

a cure-all. Slender spires of green fruit below and yellow

flowers above curve and bend at the borders of woodlands here

apparently for no better reason than to enjoy life. Very few

insects visit them, owing to the absence of nectar - certainly

not the highly specialized and intelligent "Humble-Bee," to whom

Emerson addressed the lines:

"Succory to match the sky,

Columbine with horn of honey,

Scented fern and agrimony,

Clover, catch-fly, adder's-tongue,

And brier-roses, dwelt among."

It is true the bumblebee may dwell among almost any flowers, but

he has decided preferences for such showy ones as have adapted

themselves to please his love of certain colors (not yellow), or

have secreted nectar so deeply hidden from the mob that his long

tongue may find plenty preserved when he calls. Occasional

visitors alighting on the agrimony for pollen may distribute

some, but the little blossoms chiefly fertilize themselves. When

crushed they give forth a faint, pleasant odor. Pretty, nodding

seed urns, encircled with a rim of hooks, grapple the clothing of

man or beast passing their way, in the hope of dropping off in a

suitable place to found another colony.


(Cassia nictitans) Senna family

Flowers - Yellow, regular, 5-parted, about 1/4 in. across; 2 or 3

together in the axils. Stem: Weak, 6 to 15 in. tall, branching,

leafy. Leaves: Alternate, sensitive, compounded of 12 to 44

small, narrowly oblong leaflets; a cup-shaped gland below lowest

pair; stipules persistent. Fruit: A pod, an inch long or more,

containing numerous seeds.

Preferred Habitat - Dry fields, sandy wasteland, roadsides.

Flowering Season - July-October.

Distribution - New England westward to Indiana, south to Georgia

and Texas.

How many of us ever pause to test the sensitiveness of this

exquisite foliage that borders the roadsides, and in appearance

is almost identical with the South American sensitive plant's, so

commonly cultivated in hothouses here? Failing to see its fine

little leaflets fold together instantly when brushed with the

hand, as they do in the tropical species (Mimosa pudica), many

pass on, concluding its title a misnomer. By simply touching the

leaves, however roughly, only a tardy and slight movement

follows. A sharp blow produces quicker effect, while if the whole

plant be shaken by forcibly snapping the stem with the finger,

all the leaves will be strongly affected; their sensitiveness

being apparently more aroused by vibration through jarring than

by contact with foreign bodies. The leaves, which ordinarily

spread out flat, partly close in bright sunshine and "go to

sleep" at night, not to expose their sensitive upper surfaces to

fierce heat in the first case, and to cold by radiation in the

second. "Lifeless things may be moved or acted on," says Asa

Gray; "living beings move and act - plants less conspicuously,

but no less really than animals. In sharing the mysterious gift

of life they share some of its simpler powers."


Chamaecrista) likewise goes to sleep; the ten to fifteen pairs of

leaflets which, with a terminal one, make up each pinnate leaf,

slowly turning their outer edges uppermost after sunset, and

overlapping as they flatten themselves against their common stem

until the entire aspect of the plant is changed. By day the

expanded foliage is feathery, fine, acacia-like; at night the

bushy, branching, spreading plant, that measures only a foot or

two high, appears to produce nothing but pods. These leaves

respond slowly to vibration, just as the sensitive pea's do. In

spite of their names, neither produces the butterfly-shaped

(papilionaceous) blossom of true peas. The partridge pea bears

from two to four showy flowers together, each measuring an inch

or more across, on a slender pedicel from the axils. It fully

expands only four of its five bright yellow petals; they are

somewhat unequal in size, the upper ones, with touches of red at

the base, as pathfinders, not, however, as nectar-guides, since

no sweets are secreted here. Curiously enough, both right and

left hand flowers are found upon the same plant; that is to say,

the sickle-shaped pistil turns either to the right or the left.

One lateral petal, instead of being flexible and spread like the

rest, stands so stiffly erect and incurved that it commonly

breaks on being bent back. Why? The pistil, it will be noticed,

points away from the ten long black anthers. Obviously, then, the

flower cannot fertilize itself. Its benefactors are bumblebee

females and workers out after pollen. Cup-shaped nectaries

("extra nuptial") are situated on the upper side and near the

base of the leaf stalks on these cassia plants, where they can

have no direct influence on the fertilization of the blossoms.

Apparently, they are free lunch-counters, kept open out of pure

charity. Landing upon the long black anthers with pores in their

tips to let out the pollen, the bumblebees "seize them between

their mandibles, says Professor Robertson, "and stroke them

downward with a sort of milking motion. The pollen...falls either

directly upon the bee or upon the erect lateral petal which is

pressed close against the bee's side. In this way the side of the

bee which is next to the incurved petal receives the most

pollen.... A bee visiting a left-hand flower receives pollen upon

the right side, and then flying to a right-hand flower, strikes

the same side against the stigma." When we find circular holes in

these petals we may know the leaf-cutter or upholsterer bee

(Megachile brevis) has been at work collecting roofs for her

nurseries (see Hairy Ruellia). The partridge pea, which has a

more westerly range than the sensitive pea's, extends it

southward even to Bolivia. Game birds, migrants and rovers, which

feed upon the seeds, have of course helped in their wider

distribution. The plant blooms from July to September.


(Cassia Marylandica) Senna family

Flowers - Yellow, about 3/4 in. broad, numerous, in short

axillary clusters on the upper part of plant. Calyx of 5 oblong

lobes; 5 petals, 3 forming an upper lip, 2 a lower one; 10

stamens of 3 different kinds; 1 pistil. Stem: 3 to 8 ft. high,

little branched. Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compounded of 6 to

10 pairs of oblong leaflets. Fruit: A narrow, flat curving pod, 3

to 4 in. long.

Preferred Habitat - Alluvial or moist, rich soil, swamps,


Flowering Season - July-August.

Distribution - New England, westward to Nebraska, south to the

Gulf States.

Whoever has seen certain Long Island roadsides bordered with wild

senna, the brilliant flower clusters contrasted with the deep

green of the beautiful foliage, knows that no effect produced by

art along the drives of public park or private garden can match

these country lanes in simple charm. Bumblebees, buzzing about

the blossoms, may be observed "milking" the anthers just as they

do those of the partridge pea. No red spots on any of these

petals guide the visitors, as in the previous species, however;

for do not the three small, dark stamens, which are reduced to

mere scales, answer every purpose as pathfinders here? The

stigma, turned sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left,

strikes the bee on the side; the senna being what Delpino, the

Italian botanist, calls a pleurotribe flower.

While leaves of certain African and East Indian species of senna

are most valued for their medicinal properties, those of this

plant are largely collected in the Middle and Southern States as

a substitute. Caterpillars of several sulphur butterflies, which

live exclusively on cassia foliage, appear to feel no evil

effects from overdoses.


(Baptisia tinctoria) Pea family

Flowers - Bright yellow, papilionaceous, about 1/2 in. long, on

short pedicels, in numerous but few flowered terminal racemes.

Calyx light green, 4 or 5-toothed; corolla of 5 oblong petals,

the standard erect, the keel enclosing 10 incurved stamens and

pistil. Stem: Smooth, branched, 2 to 4 ft. high. Leaves:

Compounded of 3 ovate leaflets. Fruit: A many-seeded round or

egg-shaped pod tipped with the awl-shaped style.

Preferred Habitat - Dry, sandy soil.

Flowering Season - June-September.

Distribution - Maine and Minnesota to the Gulf States.

Dark grayish green, clover-like leaves, and small, bright yellow

flowers growing in loose clusters at the ends of the branches of

a bushy little plant, are so commonly met with they need little

description. A relative, the true indigo-bearer, a native of

Asia, once commonly grown in the Southern States when slavery

made competition with Oriental labor possible, has locally

escaped and become naturalized. But the false species, although,

as Dr. Gray says, it yields "a poor sort of indigo," yields a

most valuable medicine employed by the homeopathists in malarial

fevers. The plant turns black in drying. As in the case of other

papilionaceous blossoms, bees are the visitors best adapted to

fertilize the flowers. When we see the little, sleepy,

dusky-winged butterfly (Thanaos brizo) around the plant we may

know she is there only to lay eggs, that the larvae and

caterpillars may find their favorite food at hand on waking into


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