MARSH MARIGOLD MEADOWGOWAN AMERICAN COWSLIP
(Caltha palustris) Crowfoot family'
Flowers - Bright, shining yellow, 1 to 1 1/2 in. across, a few in
terminal and axillary groups. No petals; usually 5 (often more)
oval, petal-like sepals; stamens numerous; many pistils (carpels)
without styles. Stem: Stout, smooth, hollow, branching,
1 to 2
ft. high. Leaves: Mostly from root, rounded, broad, and
heart-shaped at base, or kidney-shaped, upper ones almost
sessile, lower ones on fleshy petioles.
Preferred Habitat - Springy ground, low meadows, swamps, river
Flowering Season - April-June.
Distribution - Carolina to Iowa, the Rocky Mountains, and very
Not a true marigold, and even less a cowslip, it is by these
names that this flower, which looks most like a buttercup, will
continue to be called, in spite of the protests of scientific
classifiers. Doubtless the first of these folk-names refers to
its use in church festivals during the Middle Ages as one of the
blossoms devoted to the Virgin Mary.
"And winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes,"
sing the musicians in "Cymbeline." Whoever has seen the watery
Avon meadows in April, yellow and twinkling with marsh marigolds
when "the lark at heaven's gate sings," appreciates why the
commentators incline to identify Shakespeare's Mary-buds with the
Caltha of these and our own marshes.
Not for poet's rhapsodies, but for the more welcome hum of small
bees and flies intent on breakfasting do these flowers open in
the morning sunshine. Nectar secreted on the sides of each of the
many carpels invites a conscientious bee all around the center,
on which she should alight to truly benefit her entertainer.
Honey bees may be seen sucking only enough nectar to aid them in
storing pollen; bumblebees feasting for their own benefit, not
their descendants'; little mining bees and quantities of flies
also, although not many species are represented among the
visitors, owing to the flower's early blooming season. Always
conspicuous among the throng are the brilliant Syrphidae flies -
gorgeous little creatures which show a fondness for blossoms as
gaily colored as their own lustrous bodies. Indeed, these are the
Some country people who boil the young plants declare these
"greens" are as good as spinach. What sacrilege to reduce crisp,
glossy, beautiful leaves like these to a slimy mess in a pot! The
tender buds, often used in white sauce as a substitute for
capers, probably do not give it the same piquancy where piquancy
is surely most needed - on boiled mutton, said to be Queen
Victoria's favorite dish. Hawked about the streets in tight
bunches, the marsh-marigold blossoms - with half their yellow
sepals already dropped - and the fragrant, pearly-pink arbutus
are the most familiar spring wild flowers seen in Eastern cities.
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