( Originally Published 1922 )
Hardback; Steeple Bush
Flowers—Pink or magenta, rarely white, very small, in dense, pyramidal clusters. Calyx of 5 sepals; corolla of 5 rounded petals; stamens, 20 to 60; usually 5 pistils, downy. Stem: 2 to 3 ft. high, erect, shrubby, simple, downy. Leaves: Dark green above, covered with whitish woolly hairs beneath; oval, saw-edged, 1 to 2 in. long.
Preferred Habitat—Low, moist ground, roadside ditches, swamps.
Distribution—Nova Scotia westward, and southward to Georgia and Kansas.
An instant's comparison shows the steeple bush to be closely related to the fleecy, white meadow-sweet, often found growing near. The pink spires, which bloom from the top downward, have pale brown tips where the withered flowers are, toward the end of summer.
Why is the underside of the leaves so woolly? Not as a protection against wingless insects crawling upward, that is certain; for such could only benefit these tiny clustered flowers. Not against the sun's rays, for it is only the under surface that is coated. When the upper leaf surface is hairy, we know that the plant is protected in this way from perspiring too freely. Doubtless these leaves of the steeple bush, like those of other plants that choose a similar habitat, have woolly hairs beneath as an absorbent to protect their pores from clogging with the vapors that must rise from the damp ground where the plant grows. If these pores were filled with moisture from without, how could they possibly throw off the waste of the plant? All plants are largely dependent upon free perspiration for health, but especially those whose roots, struck in wet ground, are constantly sending up moisture through the stem and leaves.
Meadow-sweet; Quaker Lady; Queen-of-the-Meadow Spiraea salicifolia
Flowers—Small, white, or flesh pink, clustered in dense, pyramidal terminal panicles. Calyx 5 cleft; corolla of 5 rounded petals; stamens numerous; pistils 5 to 8. Stem: 2 to 4 ft. high, simple or bushy, smooth, usually reddish. Leaves: Alternate, oval, or oblong, saw-edged.
Preferred Habitat—Low meadows, swamps, fence-rows, ditches.
Flowering Season—June—August. Distribution—Newfoundland to Georgia, west to Rocky Mountains. Europe and Asia.
Fleecy white plumes of meadow-sweet, the "spires of closely clustered bloom" sung by Dora Read Goodale, are surely not frequently found near dusty "waysides scorched with barren heat," even in her Berkshires; their preference is for moister soil, often in the same habitat with a first cousin, the pink steeple-bush. But plants, like humans, are capricious creatures. If the meadow-sweet always elected to grow in damp ground whose rising mists would clog the pores of its leaves, doubtless they would be protected with a woolly absorbent, as its cousins are.
Inasmuch as perfume serves as an attraction to the more highly specialized, aesthetic insects, not required by the spiraeas, our meadow-sweet has none, in spite of its misleading name. Small bees, flies, and beetles, among other visitors, come in great numbers, seeking the accessible pollen, and, in this case, nectar also,. secreted in a conspicuous orange-colored disk.
Common Hawthorn; White Thorn; Scarlet-fruited
Thorn; Red Haw; Mayflower
Flowers—White, rarely pinkish, usually less than 1 in. across, numerous, in terminal corymbs. Calyx 5-lobed; 5 spreading petals inserted in its throat; numerous stamens; styles 3 to 5. Stem: A shrub or small tree, rarely attaining 30 ft. in height (Kratos=strength, in reference to hardness and toughness of the wood); branches spreading, and beset with stout spines (thorns) nearly 2 in. long. Leaves: Alternate, petioled, 2 to 3 in. long, ovate, very sharply cut or lobed, the teeth glandular-tipped. Fruit: Coral red, round or oval; not edible.
Preferred Habitat—Thickets, fence-rows, woodland borders.
Distribution—Newfoundland and Manitoba southward to the Gulf of Mexico.
"The fair maid who, the first of May, Goes to the fields at break of day
And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree Will ever after handsome be."
Here is a popular recipe omitted from that volume of heart. to-heart talks entitled "How to Be Pretty Though Plain!"
The sombre-thoughted Scotchman, looking for trouble, tersely observes:
"Mony haws, Mony snaws."
But in delicious, blossoming May, when the joy of living fairly intoxicates one, and every bird's throat is swelling with happy music, who but a Calvinist would croak dismal prophecies? In Ireland, old crones tell marvellous tales about the hawthorns, and the banshees which have a predilection for them.
Five-finger; Common Cinquefoil
Flowers—Yellow, 1/4 to in. across, growing singly on long peduncles from the leaf axils. Five petals longer than the 5 acute calyx lobes with 5 linear bracts between them; about 20 stamens; pistils numerous, forming a head. Stem: Spreading over ground by slender runners or ascending. Leaves: 5-fingered, the digitate, saw-edged leaflets (rarely 3 or 4) spreading from a common point, petioled; some in a tuft at base.
Preferred Habitat—Dry fields, roadsides, hills, banks. Flowering Season—April—August.
Distribution—Quebec to Georgia, and westward beyond the Mississippi.
Every one crossing dry fields in the eastern United States and Canada at least must have trod on a carpet of cinquefoil (cinque = five, feuilles = leaves), and have noticed the bright little blossoms among the pretty foliage, possibly mistaking the plant for its cousin, the trefoliate barren strawberry. Both have flowers like miniature wild yellow roses. During the Middle Ages, when misdirected zeal credited almost any plant with healing virtues for every ill that flesh is heir to, the cinquefoils were considered most potent remedies, hence their generic name.
High Bush Blackberry; Bramble
Flowers—White, 1 in. or less across, in terminal raceme-like clusters. Calyx deeply 5-parted, persistent; 5 large petals; stamens and carpels numerous, the latter inserted on a pulpy receptacle. Stem: 3 to 10 ft. high, woody, furrowed, curved, armed with stout, recurved prickles. Leaves: Compounded of 3 to 5 ovate, saw-edged leaflets, the end one stalked, all hairy beneath. Fruit: Firmly attached to the receptacle; nearly black, oblong juicy berries 1 in. long or less, hanging in clusters. Ripe, July—August.
Preferred Habitat—Dry soil, thickets, fence-rows, old fields, waysides. Low altitudes.
Distribution—New England to Florida, and far westward.
"There was a man of our town, And he was wondrous wise,
He jumped into a bramble bush"
If we must have poetical associations for every flower, Mother Goose furnishes several.
But for the practical mind this plant's chief interest lies in the fact that from its wild varieties the famous Lawton and Kittatinny blackberries have been derived. The late Peter Henderson used to tell how the former came to be introduced. A certain Mr. Secor found an unusually fine blackberry growing wild in a hedge at New Rochelle, New York, and removed it to his garden, where it increased apace. But not even for a gift could he induce a neighbor to relieve him of the superfluous bushes, so little esteemed were blackberries in his day. However, a shrewd lawyer named Lawton at length took hold of it, exhibited the fruit, advertised it cleverly, and succeeded in pocketing a snug little fortune from the sale of the prolific plants. Another fine variety of the common wild blackberry, which was discovered by a clergyman at the edge of the woods on the Kittatinny Mountains in New Jersey, has produced fruit under skilled cultivation that still remains the best of its class. When clusters of blossoms and fruit in various stages of green, red, and black hang on the same bush, few ornaments in Nature's garden are more decorative.
Purple-Bowering or Virginia Raspberry
Flowers—Royal purple or bluish pink, showy, fragrant, 1 to 2 in. broad, loosely clustered at top of stem. Calyx sticky-hairy, deeply 5-parted, with long, pointed tips; corolla of 5 rounded petals; stamens and pistils very numerous. Stern: 3 to 5 ft. high, erect, branched, shrubby, bristly, not prickly. Leaves: Alternate, petioled, 3 to 5 lobed, middle lobe largest, and all pointed; saw-edged lower leaves immense. Fruit: A depressed red berry, scarcely edible.
Preferred Habitat—Rocky woods, dells, shady roadsides. Flowering Season—June—August.
Distribution—Northern Canada south to Georgia, west-ward to Michigan and Tennessee.
To be an unappreciated, unloved relative of the exquisite wild rose, with which this flower is so often likened, must be a similar misfortune to being the untalented son of a great man, or the unhappy author of a successful first book never equalled in later attempts. But where the bright blossoms of the Virginia raspberry burst forth above the roadside tangle and shady woodland dells, even those.who despise magenta see beauty in them where abundant green tones all discordant notes into harmony. Purple, as we of to-day understand the color, the flower is not; but rather the purple of ancient Orientals. On cool, cloudy days the petals are a deep rose that fades into bluish pink when the sun is hot.
Just as many members of the lily tribe show a preference for the rule of three in the arrangements of their floral parts, so the wild roses cling to the quinary method of some primitive ancestor, a favorite one also with the buttercup and many of its kin, the geraniums, mallows, and various others. Most of our fruit trees and bushes are near relatives of the rose. Five petals and five sepals, then, we always find on roses in a state of nature; and al-though the progressive gardener of to-day has nowhere shown his skill more than in the development of a multitude of petals from stamens in the magnificent roses of fashionable society, the most highly cultivated darling of the greenhouses quickly reverts to the original wild type, setting his work of years at naught, if once it regain its natural liberties through neglect.
To protect its foliage from being eaten by hungry cattle, the rose goes armed into the battle of life with curved, sharp prickles, not true thorns or modified branches, but merely surface appliances which peel off with the bark. To destroy crawling pilferers of pollen, several species coat their calices, at least, with fine hairs or sticky gum; and to insure wide distribution of offspring, the seeds are packed in the attractive, bright red calyx tube or hip, a favorite food of many birds, which drop them miles away.
In literature, ancient and modern, sacred and profane, no flower figures so conspicuously as the rose. To the Romans it was most significant when placed over the door of a public or private banquet hall. Each who passed beneath it bound himself thereby not to disclose anything said or done within; hence the expression sub rosa, common to this day.
The Smoother, Early, or Meadow Rose (R. blanda), found blooming in June and July in moist, rocky places from Newfoundland to New Jersey and a thousand miles westward, has slightly fragrant flowers, at first pink, later pure white. Their styles are separate, not cohering in a column nor projecting as in the climbing rose. This is a leafy, low bush mostly less than three feet high; it is either entirely unarmed, or else provided with only a few weak prickles; the stipules are rather broad, and the leaf is compounded of from five to seven oval, blunt, and pale green leaflets, often hoary below.
In swamps and Iow, wet ground from Quebec to Florida and westward to the Mississippi, the Swamp Rose (R. carolina) blooms late in May and on to midsummer. The bush may grow taller than a man, or perhaps only a foot high. It is armed with stout, hooked, rather distant prickles, and few or no bristles. The leaflets, from five to nine, but usually seven, to a leaf, are smooth, pale, or perhaps hairy beneath to protect the pores from filling with moisture arising from the wet ground. Long, sharp calyx lobes, which drop off before the cup swells in fruit into a round, glandular, hairy red hip, are conspicuous among the clustered pink flowers and buds.
How fragrant are the pages of Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare with the Eglantine! This delicious plant, known here as Sweetbrier (R. rubiginosa), emits its very aromatic odor from russet glands on the under, downy side of the small leaflets, always a certain means of identification. From eastern Canada to Virginia and Tennessee the plant has happily escaped from man's gardens back to Nature's.
In spite of its American Indian name, the lovely white Cherokee Rose (R. Sinica), that runs wild in the South, climbing, rambling, and rioting with a truly Oriental abandon and luxuriance, did indeed come from China. Would that our northern thickets and roadsides might be decked with its pure flowers and almost equally beautiful dark, glossy, evergreen leaves!