YELLOW AVENS FIELD AVENS
(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After the marsh marigolds have withdrawn their brightness from
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."
TALL or HAIRY AGRIMONY
(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.
SENSITIVE PEA; WILD or SMALL-FLOWERED SENSITIVE PLANT
(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
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."
The PARTRIDGE PEA or LARGE-FLOWERED SENSITIVE PLANT (C.
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.
WILD or AMERICAN SENNA
(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
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.
WILD INDIGO; YELLOW or INDIGO BROOM; HORSEFLY-WEED
(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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