(Circaea Lutetiana) Evening Primrose family
Flowers - Very small, white, slender pedicelled, in terminal and
lateral racemes. Calyx 2-parted, hairy 2 petals, 2 alternate
stamens. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, slender, branching, swollen at
nodes. Leaves: Opposite, tapering to a point, distantly
2 to 4 in. long, slender petioled. Fruit: Pear-shaped, 2-celled,
densely covered with stiff, hooked hairs.
Preferred Habitat - Woods; shady roadsides.
Flowering Season - June-August.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia, westward to Nebraska.
Europe and Asia.
Why Circe, the enchantress, skilled in the use of poisonous
herbs, should have had her name applied to this innocent and
insignificant looking little plant is not now obvious; neither is
the title of nightshade any more appropriate.
Each tiny flower having a hairy calyx, that acts as a stockade
against ants and other such crawling pilferers, we suspect there
are abundant sweets secreted in the fleshy ring at the base of
the styles for the benefit of the numerous flies seen hovering
about. Among other visitors, watch the common housefly alighting
on the knobby stigma, a most convenient landing place, where he
leaves some pollen carried on his underside from other nightshade
blossoms. In clasping the bases of the two pliable stamens, his
only available supports as he sucks, he will surely get well
dusted again, that he may fertilize the next blossom he flies to
for refreshment. The nightshade's little pear-shaped seed
vessels, armed with hooked bristles by which they steal a ride on
any passing petticoat or trouser leg, reveal at a glance how this
plant has contrived to travel around the globe.
A smaller, weaker species (Circaea alpina), found in cool, moist
woods, chiefly north, has thin, shining leaves and soft, hooked
hairs on its vagabond seeds. Less dependence seems to be placed
on these ineffective hooks to help perpetuate the plant than on
the tiny pink bulblets growing at the end of an exceedingly
slender thread sent out by the parent roots.
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