( Originally Published 1922 )
Stellaria media (Alsine media)
Flowers—Small, white, on slender pedicels from leaf axils, also in terminal clusters. Calyx (usually) of 5 sepals, much longer than the 5 (usually) 2-parted petals; 2-10 stamens; 3 or 4 styles. Stem: Weak, branched, tufted, leafy, 4 to 6 in. long, a hairy fringe on one side. Leaves: Opposite, actually oval, lower ones petioled, upper one€ seated on stem.
Preferred Habitat—Moist, shady soil; woods; meadows. Flowering Season—Throughout the year. Distribution—Almost universal.
The sole use man has discovered for this often pestiferous weed with which nature carpets moist soil the world around is to feed caged song-birds. What is the secret of the insignificant little plant's triumphal progress? Like most immigrants that have undergone ages of selective struggle in the Old. World, it successfully competes with our native blossoms by readily adjusting itself to new conditions filling places unoccupied, and chiefly by prolonging its season of bloom beyond theirs, to get relief from the pressure of competition for insect trade in the busy season. Except during the most cruel frosts, there is scarcely a day in the year when we may not find the little star-like chick-weed flowers.
Corn Cockle; Corn Rose; Corn or Red Campion; Crown-of-the-Field
Flowers—Magenta or bright purplish crimson, 1 to 3 in. broad, solitary at end of long, stout footstem; 5 lobes of calyx leaf-like, very long and narrow, exceeding petals. Corolla of 5 broad, rounded petals; 10 stamens; 5 styles alternating with calyx lobes, opposite petals. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, erect, with few or no branches, leafy, the plant covered with fine white hairs. Leaves: Opposite, seated on stem, long, narrow, pointed, erect. Fruit: a 1-celled, many-seeded capsule.
Preferred Habitat—Wheat and other grain fields; dry, waste places.
Flowering Season—July—September. Distribution—United States at large; most common in Central and Western states. Also in Europe and Asia.
"Allons! allons! sow'd cockle, reap'd no corn," exclaims Biron in "Love's Labor's Lost." Evidently the farmers even in Shakespeare's day counted this brilliant blossom the pest it has become in many of our own grain fields just as it was in ancient times, when Job, after solemnly protesting his righteousness, called on his own land to bear record against him if his words were false. "Let thistles grow in-stead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley," he cried, according to James the First's translators; but the "noisome weeds" of the original text seem to indicate that these good men were more anxious to give the English people an adequate conception of Job's willingness to suffer for his honor's sake than to translate literally. Possibly the cockle grew in Southern Asia in Job's time: to-day its range is north.
Flowers—White, about in. broad or over, loosely clustered in a showy, pyramidal panicle. Calyx bell-shaped, swollen, 5-toothed, sticky; 5 fringed and clawed petals; 10 long, exserted stamens; 3 styles. Stem: Erect, leafy, 2 to 3 1/2 ft. tall, rough-hairy. Leaves: Oval, tapering to a point, 2 to 4 in. long, seated in whorls of 4 around stem, or loose ones opposite.
Preferred Habitat—Woods, shady banks.
Flowering Season—June—August. / Distribution—Rhode Island westward to Mississippi, south to the Carolinas and Arkansas.
Feathery white panicles of the Starry Campion, whose protruding stamens and fringed petals give it a certain fleeciness, are dainty enough for spring; by midsummer we expect plants of ranker growth and more gaudy flowers. To save the nectar in each deep tube for the moths and butterflies which cross-fertilize all this tribe of night and day blossoms, most of them—and the campions are notorious examples—spread their calices, and some their pedicels as well, with a sticky substance to entrap little crawling pilferers.' Although a popular name for the genus is catchfly, it is usually the ant that is glued to the viscid parts, for the fly that moves through the air alights directly on the flower it is too short-lipped to suck. An ant catching its feet on the miniature lime-twig, at first raises one foot after another and draws it through its mouth, hoping to rid it of the sticky stuff, but only with the result of gluing up its head and other parts of the body. In ten minutes all the pathetic struggles are ended. Let no one guilty of torturing flies to death on sticky paper condemn the Silenes!
Wild Pink or Catchfly
Silene pennsylvanica (S. caroliniana)
Flowers—Rose pink, deep or very pale; about 1 inch broad, on slender footstalks, in terminal clusters. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed, much enlarged in fruit, sticky; 5 petals with claws enclosed in calyx, wedge-shaped above, slightly notched. Stamens 10; pistil with 3 styles. Stem: 4 to 10 in. high, hairy, sticky above, growing in tufts. Leaves: Basal ones spatulate; 2 or 3 pairs of lance-shaped, smaller leaves seated on stem.
Preferred Habitat—Dry, gravelly, sandy, or rocky soil.
Distribution—New England, south to Georgia, westward to Kentucky.
Fresh, dainty, and innocent-looking as Spring herself are these bright flowers. Alas, for the tiny creatures that try to climb up the rosy tufts to pilfer nectar, they and their relatives are not so innocent as they appear! While the little crawlers are almost within reach of the cup of sweets, their feet are gummed to the viscid matter that coats it, and here their struggles end as flies' do on sticky fly-paper, or birds' on limed twigs. A naturalist counted sixty-two little corpses on the sticky stem of a single pink. All this tragedy to protectalittle nectar for the butterflies which, in sipping it, transfer the pollen from one flower to another, and so help them to produce the most beautiful and robust offspring.
Soapwort; Bouncing Bet; Hedge Pink; Bruisewort; Old
Maid's Pink; Fuller's Herb
Flowers—Pink or whitish, fragrant, about 1 inch broad, loosely clustered at end of stem, also sparingly from axils of upper leaves. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed, about 3/4 in. long; 5 petals, the claws inserted in deep tube. Stamens 10, in 2 sets; 1 pistil with 2 styles. Flowers frequently double. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, erect, stout, sparingly branched, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, acutely oval, 2 to 3 in. long, about 1 in. wide, 3 to 5 ribbed. Fruit: An oblong capsule, shorter than calyx, opening at top by 4 short teeth or valves.
Preferred Habitat—Roadsides, banks, and waste places. Flowering Season—June—September. Distribution—Generally common. Naturalized from Europe.
A stout, buxom, exuberantly healthy lassie among flowers is Bouncing Bet, who long ago escaped from gar-- dens whither she was brought from Europe, and ran wild beyond colonial farms to roadsides, along which she has travelled over nearly our entire area. Underground runners and abundant seed soon form thrifty colonies. This plant, to which our grandmothers ascribed healing virtues, makes a cleansing, soap-like lather when its bruised leaves are agitated in water.