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Crowfoot Family

( Originally Published 1922 )



Common Meadow Buttercup; Tall Crowfoot; Kingcups;

Cuckoo Flower; Goldcups; Butter-flowers; Blister-flowers

Ranunculus acris

Flowers—Bright, shining yellow, about 1 in. across, numerous, terminating long slender footstalks. Calyx of 5 spreading sepals; corolla of 5 petals; yellow stamens and carpels. Stem: Erect, branched above, hairy (sometimes nearly smooth), 2 to 3 feet tall, from fibrous roots. Leaves: In a tuft from the base, long petioled, of 3 to 7 divisions cleft into numerous lobes; stem leaves nearly sessile, distant, 3-parted.

Preferred Habitat—Meadows, fields, roadsides, grassy places.

Flowering Season—May--September. Distribution—Naturalized from Europe in Canada and the United States; most common North.

What youngster has not held these shining golden flowers under his chin to test his fondness for butter? Dandelions and Marsh Marigolds may reflect their color in his clear skin, too, but the buttercup is every child's favorite. When "Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, daisies, pink clover, and waving timothy bear them company here; not the "daisies pied," violets, and lady-smocks of Shakespeare's England. How incomparably beautiful are our own meadows in June! But the glitter of the buttercup, which is as nothing to the glitter of a gold dollar in the eyes of a practical farmer, fills him with wrath when this immigrant takes possession of his pastures. Cattle will not eat the acrid, caustic plant—a sufficient reason for most members of the Ranunculaceae to stoop to the low trick of secreting poisonous or bitter juices. Self-preservation leads a cousin, the garden monk's hood, even to murderous practices. Since children will put everything within reach into their mouths, they should be warned against biting the buttercup's stem and leaves, that are capable of raising blisters. "Beggars use the juice to produce sores upon their skin," says Mrs. Creevy. A designer might employ these exquisitely formed leaves far more profitably.

By having its nourishment thriftily stored up under-ground all winter, the Bulbous Buttercup (R. bulbosus) is able to steal a march on its fibrous-rooted sister that must accumulate hers all spring; consequently it is first to flower, coming in early May, and lasting through June. It is a low and generally more hairy plant, but closely resembling the tall buttercup in most respects, and, like it, a naturalized European immigrant now thoroughly at home in fields and roadsides in most sections of the United States and Canada.

Commonest of the early buttercups is the Tufted species (R. fascicularis), a little plant seldom a foot high, found in the woods and on rocky hillsides from Texas and Manitoba east to the Atlantic, flowering in April or May. The long-stalked leaves are divided into from three to five parts; the bright yellow flowers, with rather narrow, distant petals, measure about an inch across. They open sparingly, usually only one or two at a time on each plant, to favor pollination from another one.

Scattered patches of the Swamp or Marsh Buttercup (R. septentrionalis) brighten low, rich meadows also with their large satiny yellow flowers, whose place in the botany even the untrained eye knows at sight. The smooth, spreading plant sometimes takes root at the joints of its branches and sends forth runners, but the stems mostly ascend. The large lower mottled leaves are raised well out of the wet, or above the grass, on long petioles. They have three di-visions, each lobed and cleft. From Georgia and Kentucky far northward this buttercup blooms from April to July, opening only a few flowers at a time—a method which may make it less showy, but more certain to secure cross-pollination between distinct plants.

Tall Meadow-rue

Thalictrum polygamum (T. Cornuti)

Flowers—Greenish white, the calyx of 4 or 5 sepals, falling early; no petals; numerous white, thread-like, green-tipped stamens, spreading in feathery tufts, borne in large, loose, compound terminal clusters 1 ft. long or more. Stem: Stout, erect, 3 to 11 ft. high, leafy, branching above. Leaves: Arranged in threes, compounded of various shaped leaflets, the lobes pointed or rounded, dark above, paler below.

Preferred Habitat—Open sunny swamps, beside sluggish water, low meadows.

Flowering Season—July—September Distribution—Quebec to Florida, westward to Ohio.

Masses of these soft, feathery flowers, towering above the ranker growth of midsummer, possess an unseasonable, ethereal, chaste, spring-like beauty. On some plants the flowers are fleecy white and exquisite; others, again, are dull and coarser. Why is this? Because these are what botanists term polygamous flowers, i. e., some of them are perfect, containing both stamens and pistils; some are male only; others, again, are female. Naturally an in-sect, like ourselves, is first attracted to the more beautiful male blossoms, the pollen bearers, and of course it transfers the vitalizing dust to the dull pistillate flowers visited later. But the meadow-rue, which produces a super-abundance of very light, dry pollen, easily blown by the wind, is often fertilized through that agent also, just as grasses, plantains, sedges, birches, oaks, pines, and all cone-bearing trees are. As might be expected, a plant which has not yet ascended the evolutionary scale high enough to economize its pollen by making insects carry it invariably overtops surrounding vegetation to take advantage of every breeze that blows.

The Early Meadow-rue (T. dioicum), found blooming in open, rocky woods during April and May, from Alabama northward to Labrador, and westward to Missouri, grows only one or two feet high, and, like its tall sister, bears fleecy, greenish-white flowers, the staminate and the pistillate ones on different plants.

Liver-leaf; Hepatica; Liverwort; Roundlobed, or Kidney

Liver-leaf; Noble Liverwort; Squirrel Cup

Hepatica triloba (H. Hepatica)

Flowers—Blue, lavender, purple, pinkish, or white; occasionally, not always, fragrant; 6 to 12 petal-like, colored sepals (not petals, as they appear to be), oval or oblong; numerous stamens, all bearing anthers; pistils numerous; 3 small, sessile leaves, forming an involucre directly under flower, simulate a calyx, for which they might be mistaken. Stems: Spreading from the root, 4 to 6 in. high, a solitary flower or leaf borne at end of each furry stem. Leaves: 3-lobed and rounded, leathery, evergreen; sometimes mottled with, or entirely, reddish purple; spreading on ground, rusty at blooming time, the new leaves appearing after the flowers. Fruit: Usually as many as pistils, dry, 1-seeded, oblong, sharply pointed, never opening.

Preferred Habitat—Woods; light soil on hillsides.

Flowering Season—December—May. Distribution—Canada to northern Florida, Manitoba to Iowa and Missouri. Most common East.

Even under the snow itself bravely blooms the delicate hepatica, wrapped in fuzzy furs as if to protect its stems and nodding buds from cold. After the plebeian Skunk Cabbage, that ought scarcely to be reckoned among true flowers—and William Hamilton Gibson claimed even before it—it is the first blossom to appear. Winter sunshine, warming the hillsides and edges of woods, opens its eyes.

"Blue as the heaven it gazes at,

Startling the loiterer in the naked groves With unexpected beauty; for the time Of blossoms and green leaves is yet afar."

"There are many things left for May," says John Bur-roughs, "but nothing fairer, if as fair, as the first flower, the hepatica. I find I have never admired this little firstling half enough. When at the maturity of its charms, it is certainly the gem of the woods. What an individuality it has! No two clusters alike; all shades and sizes. A solitary blue-purple one, fully expanded and rising over the brown leaves or the green moss, its cluster of minute anthers showing like a group of pale stars on its little firmament, is enough to arrest and hold the dullest eye. Then, . . . there are individual hepaticas, or individual families among them, that are sweet scented. The gift seems as capricious as the gift of genius in families. You cannot tell which the fragrant ones are till you try them. Sometimes it is the large white ones, sometimes the large purple ones, sometimes the small pink ones. The odor is faint, and recalls that of the sweet violets. A correspondent, who seems to have care-fully observed these fragrant hepaticas, writes me that this gift of odor is constant in the same plant; that the plant which bears sweet-scented flowers this year will bear them next."

Pollen-feeding flies and female hive bees frequent these blossoms on the first warm days. Whether or not they are rewarded by finding nectar is still a mooted question. They seem to do so.

Wood Anemone; Wind-flower

Anemone quinquefolia

Flowers—Solitary, about 1 in. broad, white or delicately tinted with blue or pink outside. Calyx of 4 to 9 oval, petal-like sepals; no petals; stamens and carpels numerous, of indefinite number. Stein: Slender, 4 to 9 in. high, from horizontal elongated rootstock. Leaves: On slender petioles, in a whorl of 3 to 5 below the flower, each leaf divided into 3 to 5 variously cut and lobed parts; also a late-appearing leaf from the base.

Preferred Habitat—Woodlands, hillsides, light soil, partial shade.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Canada and United States, south to Georgia, west to Rocky Mountains.

According to one poetical Greek tradition, Anemos, the wind, employs these exquisitely delicate little star-likenamesakes as heralds of his coming in early spring, while woods and hillsides still lack foliage to break his gusts' rude force. Pliny declared that only the wind could open. anemones! Another legend utilized by countless poets pictures Venus wandering through the forests grief-stricken over the death of her youthful lover.

"Alas, the Paphian! fair Adonis slain!

Tears plenteous as his blood she pours amain; But gentle flowers are born and bloom around From every drop that falls upon the ground:

Where streams his blood, there blushing springs the rose; And where a tear has dropped, a wind-flower blows."

Indeed, in reading the poets ancient and modern for references to this favorite' blossom, one realizes as never before the significance of an anthology, literally a flower gathering.

But it is chiefly the European Anemone that is extolled by the poets. Nevertheless our more slender, fragile, paler-leaved, and smaller-flowered species, known, strange to say, by the same scientific name, possesses the greater charm. Doctors, with more prosaic eyes than the poets, find acrid and dangerous juices in the anemone and its kin. Certain European peasants will run past a colony of these pure, innocent blossoms in the belief that the very air is tainted by them. Yet the Romans ceremonially picked the first anemone of the year, with an incantation sup-posed to guard them against fever. The identical plant that blooms in our woods, which may be found also in Asia, is planted on graves by the Chinese, who call it the "death flower."

Note the clusters of tuberous, dahlia-like roots, the whorl of thin, three-lobed rounded leaflets on long, fine petioles immediately below the smaller pure white or pinkish flowers usually growing in loose clusters, to distinguish the more common Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides or Syndesmon thalictroides or Thalictrum anemonoides) from its cousin the solitary flowered wood or true anemone. Generally there are three blossoms of the Rue Anemone to a cluster, the central one opening first, the side ones only after it has developed its stamens and pistils to prolong the season of bloom and encourage cross-pollination by insects. In the eastern half of the United States, and less abundantly in Canada, these are among the most familiar spring wild flowers. Pick them and they soon wilt miserably; lift the plants early, with a good ball of soil about the roots, and they will unfold their fragile blossoms indoors, bringing with them something of the unspeakable charm of their native woods and hillsides just waking into life.

Virgin's Bower; Virginia Clematis; Traveller's Joy; Old

Man's Beard

Clematis virginiana

Flowers—White and greenish, about 1 in. across or less, in loose clusters from the axils. Calyx of 4 or 5 petal-like sepals; no petals; stamens and pistils numerous, of indefinite number; the staminate and pistillate flowers on separate plants; the styles feathery, and more than 1 in. long in fruit. Stem: Climbing, slightly woody. Leaves: Opposite, slender petioled, divided into 3 pointed and 2 widely toothed or lobed leaflets.

Preferred Habitat—Climbing over woodland borders, thickets, roadside shrubbery, fences, and walls; rich, moist soil.

Flowering Season—July—September. Distribution—Georgia and Kansas northward; less common beyond the Canadian border.

Charles Darwin, who made so many interesting studies of the power of movement in various plants, devoted special attention to the clematis clan, of which about one hundred species exist; but, alas! none to our traveller's joy, that flings out the right hand of good fellowship to every twig within reach, winds about the sapling in brotherly embrace, drapes a festoon of flowers from shrub to shrub, hooks even its sensitive leafstalks over any avail-able support as it clambers and riots on its lovely way. By rubbing the footstalk of a young leaf with a twig a few times on any side, Darwin found a clematis leaf would bend to that side in the course of a few hours, but return to the straight again if nothing remained on which to hook itself.

In early autumn, when the long, silvery, decorative plumes attached to a ball of seeds form feathery, hoary masses even more fascinating than the flower clusters, the name of old man's beard is most suggestive. These seeds never open, but, when ripe, each is borne on the autumn gales, to sink into the first moist, springy resting place.

Marsh Marigold; Meadow-gowan; American Cowslip

Caltha palustris

Flowers—Bright, shining yellow, 1 to 11 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 flesh'y petioles.

Preferred Ilabitat—Springy ground, low meadows, swamps, river banks, ditches.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Carolina to Iowa, the Rocky Mountains, and very far north.

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.

But we know well that not for poets' high-flown rhapsodies but rather for the more welcome hum of bees and flies intent on breakfasting, do these flowers open in the morning sunshine.

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 —an 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

Gold-thread; Canker-root

Coptis trifolia

Flowers—Small, white, solitary, on a slender scape 3 to 6 in. high. Sepals 5 to 7, petal-like, falling early; petals 5 to 6, inconspicuous, like club-shaped columns; stamens numerous; carpels few, the stigmatic surfaces curved. Leaves: From the base, long petioled, divided into 3 somewhat fan-shaped, shining, evergreen, sharply toothed leaflets. Rootstock: Thread-like, long, bright yellow, wiry, bitter.

Preferred Habitat—Cool mossy bogs, damp woods. Flowering Season—May—August. Distribution—Maryland and Minnesota northward to circumpolar regions.

Dig up a plant, and the fine, tangled, yellow roots tell why it was given its name. In the good old days when decoctions of any herb that was particularly nauseous were swallowed in the simple faith that virtue resided ,in them in proportion to their revolting taste, the gold-thread's bitter roots furnished a tea much valued as a spring tonic and as a cure for ulcerated throats and canker-sore mouths of helpless children.

Wild Columbine

Aquilegia canadensis

Flower—Red outside, yellow within, irregular, 1 to 2 in. long, solitary, nodding from a curved footstalk from the upper leaf axils. Petals 5, funnel-shaped, but quickly narrowing into long, erect, very slender hollow spurs, rounded at the tip and united below by the 5 spreading red sepals, between which the straight spurs ascend; numerous stamen); and 5 pistils projecting. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, branching, soft-hairy or smooth. Leaves: More or less divided, the lobes with rounded teeth; large lower compound leaves on long petioles. Fruit: An erect pod, each of the 5 divisions tipped with a long, sharp beak.

Preferred Habitat—Rocky places, rich woodland. Flowering Season—April—July.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territory; southward to the Gulf states. Rocky Mountains.

Although under cultivation the columbine nearly doubles its size, it never has the elfin charm in a conventional garden that it possesses wild in Nature's. Dancing, in red and yellow petticoats, to the rhythm of the breeze along the ledge of overhanging rocks, it coquettes with some Punchinello as II daring him to reach her at his peril. Who is he? Let us sit a while on the rocky ledge and watch for her lovers.

Presently a big muscular bumblebee booms along. Owing to his great strength, an inverted, pendent blossom, from which he must cling upside down, has no more terrors for him than a trapeze for the trained acrobat. His long tongue—if he is one of the largest of our sixty-two species of Bombus—can suck almost any flower unless it is especially adapted to night-flying sphinx moths, but can he drain this? He is the truest benefactor of the European Columbine (A. vulgaris whose spurs suggested the talons of an eagle (aquila) to imaginative Linnaeus when he gave this group of plants its generic name. Smaller bumble-bees, unable through the shortness of their tongues to feast in a legitimate manner, may be detected nipping holes in the tips of all columbines, where the nectar is secreted, just as they do in larkspurs, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, butter and eggs, and other flowers whose deeply hidden nectaries make dining too difficult for the little rogues. Fragile butterflies, absolutely dependent on nectar, hover near our showy wild columbine with its five tempting horns of plenty, but sail away again, knowing as they do that their weak legs are not calculated to stand the strain of an inverted position from a pendent flower, nor arc their tongues adapted to slender tubes unless these may be entered from above. The tongues of both butterflies and moths bend readily only when directed beneath their bodies. It will be noticed that our columbine's funnel-shaped tubes contract just below the point where the nectar is secreted—doubtless to protect it from small bees. When we see the honey-bee or the little wild bees—Halictus chiefly—on the flower, we may know they get pollen only.

Finally a ruby-throated humming bird whirs into sight. Poising before a columbine, and moving around it to drain one spur after another until the five are emptied, he flashes like thought to another group of inverted red cornucopias, visits in turn every flower in the colony, then whirs away quite as suddenly as he came. Probably to him, and no longer to the outgrown bumblebee, has the flower adapted itself. The European species wears blue, the bee's favorite color according to Sir John Lubbock; the nectar hidden in its spurs, which are shorter, stouter, and curved, is accessible only to the largest humblebees.

There are no humming birds in Europe. Our native columbine, on the contrary, has longer, contracted, straight., erect spurs, most easily drained by the ruby-throat which, like Eugene Field, ever delights in "any color at all so long as it's red."

To help make the columbine conspicuous, even the sepals become red; but the flower is yellow within, it is thought to guide visitors to the nectaries. The stamens protrude like a golden tassel. After the anthers pass the still immature stigmas, the pollen of the outer row ripens, ready for removal, while the inner row of undeveloped stamens still acts as a sheath for the stigmas. Owing to the pendent position of the flower, no pollen could fall on the latter in any case. The columbine is too highly organized to tolerate self-fertilization. When all the stamens have discharged their pollen, the styles then elongate; and the feathery stigmas, opening and curving sidewise, bring themselves at the entrance of each of the five cornucopias, just the position the anthers previously occupied. Probably even the small bees, collecting pollen only, help carry some from flower to flower; but perhaps the largest bumblebees, and certainly the humming bird, must be regarded as the columbine's legitimate benefactors. Caterpillars of one of the dusky wing,* (Papilio lucilius) feed on the leaves.

Black Cohosh; Black Snakeroot; Tall Bugbane

Cimicifuga racemosa

Flowers—Foetid, feathery, white, in an elongated wand-like raceme, 6 in. to 2 ft. long, at the end of a stem 3 to 8 ft. high. Sepals petal-like, falling early; 4 to 8 small stamen-like petals 2-cleft; stamens very numerous, with long filaments; 1 or 2 sessile pistils with broad stigmas. Leaves: Alternate, on long petioles, thrice compounded of oblong, deeply toothed or cleft leaflets, the end leaflet often again compound. Fruit: Dry oval pods, their seeds in 2 rows.

Preferred Habitat—Rich woods and woodland borders, hillsides.

Flowering Season—June—August.

Distribution—Maine to Georgia, and westward from Ontario to Missouri.

Tall white rockets, shooting upward from a mass of large handsome leaves in some heavily shaded midsummer woodland border, cannot fail to impress themselves through more than one sense, for their odor is as disagreeable as the fleecy white blossoms are striking. Obviously such flowers would be most attractive to the carrion and meat flies. Cimicifuga, meaning to drive away hugs, and the old folk-name of bugbane testify to a degree of offensiveness to other insects, where the flies' enjoyment begins. As these are the only insects one is likely to see about the fleecy wands, doubtless they are their benefactors. The countless stamens which feed them generously with pollen willingly left for them alone must also dust them well as they crawl about before flying to another foetid lunch.

The close kinship with the baneberries is detected at once on examining one of these flowers. Were the vigorous plant less offensive to the nostrils, many a garden would be proud to own sos decorative an addition to the shrubbery border.

White Baneberry; Cohosh

Actaea alba

Flowers—Small, white, in a terminal oblong raceme. Calyx of 3 to 5 petal-like, early-falling sepals; petals very small, 4 to 10, spatulate, clawed; stamens white, numerous, longer than petals; 1 pistil with a broad stigma. Stem: Erect, bushy, 1 to 2 ft. high. Leaves: Twice or thrice .compounded of sharply toothed and pointed, sometimes lobed, leaflets, petioled. Fruit: Clusters of poisonous oval white berries with dark purple spot on end, formed from the pistils. Both pedicels and peduncles much thickened and often red after fruiting.

Preferred Habitat—Cool, shady, moist woods.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to Georgia and far West.

However insignificant the short fuzzy clusters of flowers lifted by this bushy little plant, we cannot fail to name it after it has set those curious white berries with a dark spot on the end, which Mrs. Starr Dana graphically compares to "the china eyes that small children occasionally man-age to gouge from their dolls' heads." For generations they have been called "dolls' eyes" in Massachusetts. Especially after these poisonous berries fully ripen and the rigid stems which bear them thicken and redden, we cannot fail to notice them. As the sepals fall early, the white stamens and stigmas are the most conspicuous parts of the flowers.



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