TRAILING BUSH CLOVER
(Lespedeza procumbens) Pea family
Flowers - Purplish pink or violet, veined, the butterfly-shaped
ones having standard petal, wings, and keel, clustered at end of
peduncles; the minute flowers lacking a corolla, nearly sessile.
Calyx of 5 slender, nearly equal lobes. Stems: Prostrate,
sometimes ascending, woolly or downy, leafy. Leaves:
Clover-like, trefoliate. Fruit: A very small, hairy, flat,
rounded, acute pod.
Preferred Habitat - Dry soil open, sandy places.
Flowering Season - August-September.
Distribution - Massachusetts to the Gulf, and westward to the
Springing upward from a mass of clover-like leaves, these showy
little blossoms elevate themselves to arrest, not our attention,
but the notice of the passing bee. As the claw of the standard
petal and the calyx are short, he need not have a long tongue to
drain the nectary pointed out to him by a triangular white mark
at the base of the banner. Now, as his weight depresses the
incurved keel, wherein the vital organs are protected, the stigma
strikes the visitor in advance of the anthers, so that pollen
brought on his underside from another flower must come off on
this one before he receives fresh pollen to transfer to a third
blossom. At first the keel returns to its original position when
depressed; later it loses its elasticity. But besides these showy
flowers intended to be cross-fertilized by insects, the bush
clovers bear, among the others, insignificant-looking, tightly
closed, bud-like ones that produce abundant self-fertilized seed.
The petaliferous flowers are simply to counteract the inevitable
evils resulting from close inbreeding. One usually finds
caterpillars of the "dusky wings" butterfly feeding on the
foliage and the similar tick trefoils which are its staple. At
night the bush clover leaves turn upward, completely changing the
aspect of these plants as we know them by day. Michaux named the
group of flowers for his patron, Lespedez, a governor of Florida
under the Spanish regime.
Perhaps the commonest of the tribe is the VIOLET BUSH CLOVER (L.
violacea), a variable, branching, erect, or spreading plant,
sometimes only a foot high, or again three times as tall. Its
thin leaves are more elliptic than the decidedly clover-like ones
of the preceding species; its rose-purple flowers are more
loosely clustered, and the stems are only sparingly hairy, never
On the top of the erect, usually unbranched, but very leafy stem
of the WAND-LIKE BUSH CLOVER (L. frutescens), the two kinds of
flowers grow in a crowded cluster, and more sparingly from the
axils below. The clover-like leaflets, dark green and smooth
above, are paler and hairy below. Like the rest of its kin, this
bush clover delights in dry soil, particularly in open, sandy
places near woods of pine and oak. One readily distinguishes the
SLENDER BUSH CLOVER (L. Virginica) by the very narrowly oblong
leaves along its wand, which bears two kinds of bright rose
flowers, clustered at the top chiefly, and in the axils.
Yellowish-white flowers, about a quarter of an inch long, and
with a purplish-rose spot on the standard petal to serve as a
pathfinder to the nectary, are crowded in oblong spikes an inch
and a half long or less on the HAIRY BUSH CLOVER (L. hirta). The
stem, which may attain four feet, or half that height, is usually
branched; and the entire plant is often downy to the point of
Dense clusters of the yellowish-white flowers of the ROUND-HEADED
BUSH CLOVER (L. capitata) are seated in the upper axils of the
silvery-hairy, wand-like stem. Pink streaks at the base of the
standard petal serve as pathfinders, and its infolded edges guide
the bee's tongue straight to the opening in the stamen tube
through which he sucks.
WILD or SPOTTED GERANIUM or CRANE'S-BILL; ALUM-ROOT
(Geranium maculatum) Geranium family
Flowers - Pale magenta, purplish pink, or lavender, regular, 1 to
1 1/2 in. broad, solitary or a pair, borne on elongated
peduncles, generally with pair of leaves at their base. Calyx of
5 lapping, pointed sepals; 5 petals, woolly at base; 10 stamens;
pistil with 5 styles. Fruit: A slender capsule pointed like a
crane's bill. In maturity it ejects seeds elastically far from
the parent plant. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, hairy, slender, simple
or branching above. Leaves: Older ones sometimes spotted with
white; basal ones 3 to 6 in. wide, 3 to 5 parted, variously cleft
and toothed; 2 stem leaves opposite.
Preferred Habitat - Open woods, thickets, and shady roadsides.
Flowering Season - April-July.
Distribution - Newfoundland to Georgia, and westward a thousand
Sprengel, who was the first to exalt flowers above the level of
mere botanical specimens, had his attention led to the intimate
relationship existing between plants and insects by studying out
the meaning of the hairy corolla of the common wild geranium of
Germany (G. sylvaticum), being convinced, as he wrote in 1787,
that "the wise Author of Nature has not made even a single hair
without a definite design." A hundred years before, Nehemias Grew
had said that it was necessary for pollen to reach the stigma of
a flower in order that it might set fertile seed; and Linnaeus
had to come to his aid with conclusive evidence to convince a
doubting world that this was true. Sprengel made the next step
forward, but his writings lay neglected over seventy years
because he advanced the then incredible and only partially true
statement that a flower is fertilized by insects which carry its
pollen from its anthers to its stigma. In spite of his
discoveries that the hairs inside the geranium's corolla protect
its nectar from rain for the insect's benefit, just as eyebrows
keep perspiration from falling into the eye; that most flowers
which secrete nectar have what he termed "honey guides" - spots
of bright color, heavy veining, or some such pathfinder on the
petals - in spite of the most patient and scientific research
that shed great light on natural selection a half-century before
Darwin advanced the theory, he left it for the author of "The
Origin of Species" to show that cross-fertilization - the
transfer of pollen from one blossom to another, not from anthers
to stigma of the same flower - is the great end to which so much
marvelous mechanism is chiefly adapted. Cross-fertilized blossoms
defeat self-fertilized flowers in the struggle for existence.
No wonder Sprengel's theory was disproved by his scornful
contemporaries in the very case of his wild geranium, which sheds
its pollen before it has developed a stigma to receive any;
therefore no insect that had not brought pollen from an earlier
bloom could possibly fertilize this flower. How amazing that he
did not see this! Our common wild crane's-bill, which also has
lost the power to fertilize itself, not only ripens first the
outer, then the inner, row of anthers, but actually drops them
off after their pollen has been removed, to overcome the barest
chance of self-fertilization as the stigmas become receptive.
This is the geranium's and many other flowers' method to compel
cross-fertilization by insects. In cold, stormy, cloudy weather a
geranium blossom may remain in the male stage several days before
becoming female; while on a warm, sunny day, when plenty of
insects are flying, the change sometimes takes place in a few
hours. Among others, the common sulphur or puddle butterfly, that
sits in swarms on muddy roads and makes the clover fields gay
with its bright little wings, pilfers nectar from the geranium
without bringing its long tongue in contact with the pollen.
Neither do the smaller bees and flies which alight on the petals
necessarily come in contact with the anthers and stigmas.
Doubtless the larger bees are the flowers' true benefactors.
The so-called geraniums in cultivation are pelargoniums, strictly
In barren soil, from Canada to the Gulf, and far westward, the
CAROLINA CRANE'S-BILL (G. Carolinianum), an erect, much-branched
little plant resembling the spotted geranium in general features,
bears more compact clusters of pale rose or whitish flowers,
barely half an inch across. As their inner row of anthers comes
very close to the stigmas, spontaneous self-fertilization may
sometimes occur; although in fine weather small bees, especially,
visit them constantly. The beak of the seed vessel measures
nearly an inch long.
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