(Apios Apios; A. tuberosa of Gray) Pea family
Flowers - Fragrant, chocolate brown and reddish purple, numerous,
about 1/2 in. long, clustered in racemes from the leaf-axils.
Calyx 2-lipped, corolla papilionaceous, the broad standard petal
turned backward, the keel sickle-shaped; stamens within it
1. Stem: From tuberous, edible rootstock; climbing, slender,
several feet long, the juice milky. Leaves: Compounded of 5 to 7
ovate leaflets. Fruit: A leathery, slightly curved pod, 2 to 4
Preferred Habitat - Twining about undergrowth and thickets in
moist or wet ground.
Flowering Season - July-September.
Distribution - New Brunswick to Ontario, south to the Gulf States
No one knows better than the omnivorous "barefoot boy" that
"where the ground-nut trails its vine"
there is hidden something really good to eat under the soft,
moist soil where legions of royal fern, usually standing guard
above it, must be crushed before he digs up the coveted tubers.
He would be the last to confuse it with the WILD KIDNEY BEAN or
BEAN VINE (Phaseolus polystachyus; P. perennis of Gray). The
latter has loose racemes of smaller purple flowers and leaflets
in threes; nevertheless it is often confounded with the
ground-nut vine by older naturalists whose knowledge was "learned
Usually a bee, simply by alighting on the wings of a blossom
belonging to the pea family, releases the stamens and pistil from
the keel; not so here. The sickle-shaped keel of the ground-nut's
flower rests its tip firmly in a notch of the standard petal, nor
will any jar or pressure from outside release it. A bee, guided
to the nectary by the darker color of the underside of the curved
keel which spans the open cavity of the flower, enters, at least
partially, and so releases by his pressure, applied from
underneath, the tip of the sickle from its notch in the standard.
Now the released keel curves all the more, and splits open to
release the stigmatic tip of the style that touches any pollen
the bee may have brought from another blossom. Continuing to
curve and coil while the bee sucks, it presently dusts him afresh
with pollen from the now released anthers. A mass of pulp between
anthers and stigma prevents any of the flower's own pollen from
self-fertilizing it. These little blossoms, barely half an inch
long, with their ingenious mechanism to compel
cross-fertilization, repay the closest study.
At midnight the leaves of the ground-nut.and wild bean "are
hardly to be recognized in their queer antics," says William
Hamilton Gibson. "The garden beans too play similar pranks. Those
lima bean poles of the garden hold a sleepy crowd."
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