Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Lily Family

( Originally Published 1922 )



American White Hellebore; Indian Poke; Itch-weed

Veratrum viride

Flowers—Dingy, pale yellowish or whitish green, growing greener with age, 1 in. or less across, very numerous, in stiff-branching, spike-like, dense-flowered panicles. Perianth of 6 oblong segments; 6 short curved stamens; 3 styles. Stem: Stout, leafy, 2 to 8 ft. tall. Leaves: Plaited, lower ones broadly oval, pointed, 6 to 12 in. long; parallel ribbed, sheathing the stem where they clasp it; upper leaves gradually narrowing; those among flowers small.

Preferred Habitat—Swamps, wet woods, low meadows. Flowering Season—May—July.

Distribution—British Possessions from ocean to ocean; southward in the United States to Georgia, Tennessee, and Minnesota.

"Borage and hellebore fiII two scenes—Sovereign plants to purge the veins Of melancholy, and cheer the heart

Of those black fumes which make it smart."

Such are the antidotes for madness prescribed by Bur-ton in his "Anatomie of Melancholy." But like most medicines, so the homeeopaths have taught us, the plant that heals may also poison; and the coarse, thick rootstock of this hellebore sometimes does deadly work. The shining plaited leaves, put forth so early in the spring they are especially tempting to grazing cattle on that account, are too well known by most animals, however, to be touched by them—precisely the end desired, of course, by the hellebore, nightshade, aconite, cyclamen, Jamestown weed, and a host of others that resort, for protection, to the low trick of mixing poisonous chemicals with their cellular juices. Pliny told how the horses, oxen, and swine of his day were killed by eating the foliage of the black hellebore. But the flies which cross-fertilize this plant seem to be uninjured by its nectar.

Wild Yellow, Meadow, or Field Lily; Canada Lily Lilium canadense

Flowers—Yellow to orange-red, of a deeper shade within, and speckled with dark, reddish-brown dots. One or several (rarely many) nodding on long peduncles from the summit. Perianth bell-shaped, of 6 spreading segments 2 to 3 in. long, their tips curved backward to the middle; 6 stamens, with reddish-brown linear anthers; 1 pistil, club-shaped; the stigma 3-lobed. Stem: 2 to 5 ft. tall, leafy, from a bulbous rootstock composed of numerous fleshy white scales. Leaves: Lance-shaped to oblong; usually in whorls of fours to tens, or some alternate. Fruit: An erect, oblong, 3-celled capsule, the flat, horizontal seeds packed in 2 rows in each cavity.

Preferred Habitat—Swamps, low meadows, moist fields. Flowering Season—June--July.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to Georgia, westward beyond the Mississippi.

Not our gorgeous lilies that brighten the low-lying meadows in early summer with pendent, swaying bells; possibly not a true lily at all was chosen to illustrate the truth which those who listened to the Sermon on the Mount, and we, equally anxious, foolishly overburdened folk of to-day, so little comprehend.

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

"And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Opinions differ as to the lily of Scripture. Eastern peoples use the same word interchangeably for the tulip, anemone, ranunculus, iris, the water-lilies, and those of the field. The superb scarlet Martagon Lily (L. chalcedonicum), grown in gardens here, is not uncommon wild in Palestine; but whoever has seen the large anemones there "carpeting every plain and luxuriantly pervading the land" is inclined to believe that Jesus, who always chose the most familiar objects in the daily life of His simple listeners to illustrate His teachings, rested His eyes on the slopes about Him glowing with anemones in all their matchless loveliness. What flower served Him then matters not at all. It is enough that scientists—now more plainly than ever before—see the universal application of the illustration the more deeply they study nature, and can include their "little brothers of the air" and the humblest flower at their feet when they say with Paul, "In God we live and move and have our being."

Tallest and most prolific of bloom among our native lilies, as it is the most variable in color, size, and form, the Turk's Cap, or Turban Lily (L. superlrum), sometimes nearly merges its identity into its Canadian sister's. Travellers by rail between New York and Boston know how gorgeous are the low meadows and marshes in July or August, when its clusters of deep yellow, orange, or flame-colored lilies tower above the surrounding vegetation. Like the color of most flowers, theirs intensifies in salt air. Commonly from three to seven lilies appear in a terminal group; but under skilful cultivation even forty will crown the stalk that reaches a height of nine feet where its home suits it perfectly; or maybe only a poor array of dingy yellowish caps top a shrivelled stem when unfavorable conditions prevail. There certainly are times when its specific name seems extravagant.

Red, Wood, Flame, or Philadelphia Lily

Lilium philadelphicum

Flowers—Erect, tawny, or red-tinted outside; vermilion, or sometimes reddish orange, and spotted with madder brown within; 1 to 5, on separate peduncles, borne at the summit. Perianth of 6 distinct, spreading, spatulate segments, each narrowed into a claw, and with a nectar groove at its base; 6 stamens; 1 style, the club-shaped stigma 3-lobed. Stem:1 to 3 ft. tall, from a bulb composed of narrow, jointed, fleshy scales. Leaves: In whorls of 3's to 8's, lance-shaped, seated at intervals on the stem.

Preferred Habitat—Dry woods, sandy soil, borders, and thickets.

Flowering Season—June—July.

Distribution—Northern border of United States, westward to Ontario, south to the Carolinas and West Virginia.

Erect, as if conscious of its striking beauty, this vivid lily lifts a chalice that suggests a trap for catching sun-beams from fiery old Sol. Defiant of his scorching rays in its dry habitat, it neither nods nor droops even during prolonged drought; and yet many people confuse it with the gracefully pendent, swaying bells of the yellow Canada Lily, which will grow in a swamp rather than forego moisture. Li, the Celtic for white, from which the family de-rived its name, makes this bright-hued flower blush to own it. Seedsmen, who export quantities of our superb native lilies to Europe, supply bulbs so cheap that no one should wait four years for flowers from seed, or go without their splendor in our over-conventional gardens.

Yellow Adder's Tongue; Trout Lily; Dog-tooth "Violet"

Erythronium americanum

Flower—Solitary, pale russet yellow, rarely tinged with purple, slightly fragrant, 1 to 2 in. long, nodding from the summit of a rootstalk 6 to 12 in, high, or about as tall as the leaves. Perianth bell-shaped, of 6 petal-like, distinct segments, spreading at tips, dark spotted within; 6 stamens; the club-shaped style with 3 short, stigmatic ridges.. Leaves: 2, unequal, grayish green, mottled and streaked with brown or all green, oblong, 3 to 8 in. long, narrowing into clasping petioles.

Preferred Habitat—Moist open woods and thickets, brooksides.

Flowering Season—March—May.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to Florida, westward to the Mississippi.

Colonies of these dainty little lilies, that so often grow beside leaping brooks where and when the trout hide, justify at least one of their names; but they have nothing in common with the violet or a dog's tooth. Their faint fragrance rather suggests a tulip; and as for the bulb, which in some of the lily-kin has toothlike scales, it is in this case a smooth, egg-shaped corm, producing little round offsets from its base. Much fault is also found with another name on the plea that the curiously mottled and delicately pencilled leaves bring to mind, not a snake's tongue, but its skin, as they surely do. Whoever sees the sharp purplish point of a young plant darting above ground in earliest spring, however, at once sees the fitting application of adder's tongue. But how few recognize their plant friends at all seasons of the year!

Every one must have noticed the abundance of low-growing spring flowers in deciduous woodlands, where, later in the year, after the leaves overhead cast a heavy shade, so few blossoms are to be found, because their light is seriously diminished. The thrifty adder's tongue, by laying up nourishment in its storeroom underground through the winter, is ready to send its leaves and flower upward to take advantage of the sunlight the still naked trees do not intercept, just as soon as the ground thaws.

Yellow Clintonia Clintonia borealis

Flowers—Straw color or greenish yellow, less than 1 in. long, 3 to 6 nodding on slender pedicels from the summit of a leafless scape 6 to 15 in. tall. Perianth of 6 spreading divisions, the 6 stamens attached; style, 3-lobed. Leaves: Dark, glossy, large, oval to oblong, 2 to 5 (usually 3), sheathing at the base. Fruit: Oval blue berries on upright pedicels.

Preferred Habitat—Moist, rich, cool woods and thickets. Flowering Season—May—June.

Distribution—From the Carolinas and Wisconsin far northward.

To name canals, bridges, city thoroughfares, booming factory towns after De Witt Clinton seems to many appropriate enough; but why a shy little woodland flower?

As fitly might a wee white violet carry down the name of Theodore Roosevelt to posterity! "Gray should not have named the flower from the Governor of New York," complains Thoreau. "What is he to the lovers of flowers in Massachusetts? If named after a man, it must be a man of flowers." So completely has Clinton, the practical man of affairs, obliterated Clinton, the naturalist, from the popular mind, that, were it not for this plant keeping his memory green, we should be in danger of forgetting the weary, overworked governor, fleeing from care to the woods and fields; pursuing in the open air the study which above all others delighted and refreshed him; revealing in every leisure moment a too-often forgotten side of his many-sided greatness.

Wild Spikenard; False Solomon's Seal; Solomon's Zig-zag

Smilacina racemosa

Flowers—White or greenish, small, slightly fragrant, in a densely flowered terminal raceme. Perianth of 6 separate, spreading segments; 6 stamens; 1 pistil. Stem: Simple, somewhat angled, 1 to 3 ft. high, scaly below, leafy, and sometimes finely hairy above. Leaves: Alternate and seated along stem, oblong, lance-shaped, 3 to 6 in. long, finely hairy beneath. Rootstock: Thick, fleshy. Fruit: A cluster of aromatic, round, pale red speckled berries.

Preferred Habitat—Moist woods, thickets, hillsides. Flowering Season—May—July.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to Georgia; westward to Arizona and British Columbia.

As if to offer opportunities for comparison to the con-fused novice, the true Solomon's Seal and the so-called false species—quite as honest a plant—usually grow near each other. Grace of line, rather than beauty of blossom, gives them both their chief charm. But the feathery plume of greenish-white blossoms that crowns the false Solomon's Seal's somewhat zig-zagged stem is very different from the small, greenish, bell-shaped flowers, usually nodding in pairs along the stein, under the leaves, from the axils of the true Solomon's Seal. Later in summer, when hungry birds wander through the woods with in-creased families, the Wild Spikenard offers them branching clusters of pale red speckled berries, whereas the former plant feasts them with blue-black fruit.

Hairy, or True, or Twin-flowered Solomon's Seal.

Polygonatum biflorum

Flowers—Whitish or yellowish green, tubular, bell-shaped, 1 to 4, but usually 2, drooping on slender peduncles from leaf axils. Perianth 6-lobed at entrance, but not spreading; 6 stamens, the filaments roughened; 1 pistil. Stem: Simple, slender, arching, leafy, 8 in. to 3 ft. long. Leaves: Oval, pointed, or lance-shaped, alternate, 2 to 4 in. long, seated on stem, pale beneath and softly hairy along veins. Rootstock: Thick, horizontal, jointed, scarred. (Polggonatum=many joints.) Fruit: A blue-black berry.

Preferred Habitat—Woods, thickets, shady banks. Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—New Brunswick to Florida, westward to Michigan.

From a many-jointed, thick rootstock a single graceful curved stem arises each spring, withers after fruiting, and leaves a round scar, whose outlines suggested to the fanciful man who named the genus the seal of Israel's wise king. Thus one may know, the age of a root by its seals, as one tells that of a tree by the rings in its trunk.

Early or Dwarf Wake-Robin

Trillium nivale

Flowers—Solitary, pure white, about 1 in. long, on an erect or curved peduncle, from a whorl of 3 leaves at summit of stem. Three spreading, green, narrowly oblong sepals; 3 oval or oblong petals; 6 stamens, the anthers about as long as filaments; 3 slender styles stigmatic along inner side. Stein: 2 to 6 in. high, from a short, tuber-like rootstock. Leaves: 3 in a whorl below the flower, 1 to 2 in. long, broadly oval, rounded at end, on short petioles. Fruit: A 3-lobed reddish berry, about in. diameter, the sepals adhering.

Preferred Habitat—Rich, moist woods and thickets.

Flowering Season—March—May.

Distribution—Pennsylvania, westward to Minnesota and Iowa, south to Kentucky.

Only this delicate little flower, as white as the snow it sometimes must push through to reach the sunshine melting the last drifts in the leafless woods, can be said to wake the robins into song; a full chorus of feathered love-makers greets the appearance of the more widely distributed, and therefore better known, species.

By the rule of three all the trilliums, as their name implies, regulate their affairs. Three sepals, three petals, twice three stamens, three styles, a three-celled ovary, the flower growing out from a whorl of three leaves, make the naming of wake-robins a simple matter to the novice.

One of the most chastely beautiful of our native wild flowers—so lovely that many shady nooks in English rock-gardens and ferneries contain imported clumps of the vigorous plant—is the Large-flowered Wake-Robin, or White Wood Lily (T. grandiflorum). Under favorable conditions the waxy, thin, white, or occasionally pink, strongly veined petals may exceed two inches; and in Michigan a monstrous form has been found. The broadly rhombic leaves, tapering to a point, and lacking petioles, are seated in the usual whorl of three, at the summit of the stem, which may attain a foot and a half in height; from the centre the decorative flower arises on a long peduncle.

Certainly the commonest trillium in the East, although it thrives as far westward as Ontario and Missouri, and south to Georgia, is the Nodding Wake-Robin (T. cernuum), whose white or pinkish flower droops from its peduncle until it is all but hidden under the whorl of broadly rhombic, tapering leaves. The wavy margined petals, about as long as the sepals—that is to say, half an inch long or- over—curve backward at maturity. One finds the plant in bloom from April to June, according to the climate of its long range.

Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful member of the tribe is the Painted Trillium (T. undulatum or T. erythrocarpum). At the summit of the slender stem, rising perhaps only eight inches, or maybe twice as high, this charming flower spreads its long, wavy-edged, waxy-white petals veined and striped with deep pink or wine color. The large ovate leaves, long-tapering to a point, are rounded at the base into short petioles. The rounded, three-angled, bright red, shining berry is seated in the persistent calyx. With the same range as the nodding trillium's, the Painted Wake-Robin comes into bloom nearly a month later—in May and June—when all the birds are not only wide awake, but have finished courting, and are busily engaged in the most serious business of life.

Purple Trillium, Ill-scented Wake-Robin, or Birth-root

Trillium erectum

Flowers—Solitary, dark, dull purple, or purplish red; rarely greenish, white, or pinkish; on erect or slightly inclined footstalk. Calyx of 3 spreading sepals, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long, or about length of 3 pointed, oval petals; stamens, 6; anthers longer than filaments; pistil spreading into 3 short, recurved stigmas. Stem: Stout, 8 to 16 in. high, from tuber-like rootstock. Leaves: In a whorl of 3; broadly ovate, abruptly pointed, netted-veined. Fruit: A 6-angled, ovate, reddish berry.

Preferred Habitat—Rich, moist woods.

Flowering Season—April—June. - Distribution—Nova Scotia westward to Manitoba, south-ward to North Carolina and Missouri.

Some weeks after the jubilant, alert robins have re-turned from the South, the Purple Trillium unfurls its unattractive, carrion-scented flower. In the variable colors found in different regions, one can almost trace its evolution from green, white, and red to purple, which, we are told, is the course all flowers must follow to attain to blue. The white and pink forms, however attractive to the eye, are never more agreeable to the nose than the reddish-purple ones. Bees and butterflies, with delicate appreciation of color and fragrance, let the blossom alone, since it secretes no nectar; and one would naturally infer either that it can fertilize itself without insect aid—a theory which closer study of its organs goes far to disprove—or that the carrion-scent, so repellent to us, is in itself an attraction to certain insects needful for cross-pollination. Which are they? Beetles have been observed crawling over the flower, but without effecting any methodical result. One inclines to accept Mr. Clarence M. Weed's theory of special adaptation to the common green flesh-flies (Lucilia carnicina), which would naturally be attracted to a flower resembling in color and odor a raw beefsteak of uncertain age. These little creatures, seen in every butcher shop throughout the summer, the flower furnishes with a free lunch of pollen in consideration of the transportation of a few grains to another blossom. Absence of the usual floral attractions gives the carrion flies a practical monopoly of the pollen food, which no doubt tastes as it smells.

The Sessile-flowered Wake-Robin (T. sessile), whose dark purple, purplish-red, or greenish blossom, narrower of sepal and petals than the preceding, is seated in a whorl of three egg-shaped, sometimes blotched, leaves, possesses a rather pleasant odor; nevertheless, it seems to have no great attraction for insects. The stigmas, which are very large, almost touch the anthers surrounding them; there-fore the beetles which one frequently sees crawling over them to feed on the pollen so jar them, no doubt, as to self-fertilize the flower; but it is scarcely probable these slow crawler§ often transfer the grains from one blossom to an-other. A degraded flower like this has little need of color and perfume, one would suppose; yet it may be even now slowly perfecting its way toward an ideal of which we see a part only complete. In deep, rich, moist woods and thickets the sessile trillium blooms in April or May, from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Minnesota southward nearly to the Gulf.

Carrion-flower Smilax herbacea

Flowers—Carrion-scented, yellowish-green, 15 to 80 small, 6-parted ones clustered in an umbel on a long peduncle. Stem,: Smooth, unarmed, climbing. with the help of tendril-like appendages from the base of leafstalks. Leaves: Egg-shaped, heart-shaped, or rounded, pointed tipped, parallel-nerved, petioled. Fruit: Bluish-black berries.

Preferred Habitat—Moist soil, thickets, woods, roadside fences.

Flowering Season—April—June.

Distribution—Northern Canada to the Gulf states, west-ward to Nebraska.

"It would be safe to say," says John Burroughs, "that there is a species of smilax with an unsavory name, that the bee does not visit, herbacea. The production of this plant is a curious freak of nature. . . . It would be a cruel joke to offer it to any person not acquainted with it, to smell. It is like the vent of a charnel-house." (Thoreau compared its odor to that of a dead rat in a wall!) "It is first cousin to the trilliums, among the prettiest of our native wild flowers," continues Burroughs, "and the same bad blood crops out in the Purple Trillium or Birth-root."

Strange that so close an observer as Burroughs or Thoreau should not have credited the carrion-flower with being something more intelligent than a mere repellent freak! Like the Purple Trillium, it has deliberately adapted itself to please its benefactors, the little green flesh-flies so commonly seen about untidy butcher shops in summer.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com