Flowers - Common Speedwell, Paul's Betony, Ground-hele
( Originally Published 1916 )
(Veronica officinalis) Figwort family
Flowers—Pale blue, very small, crowded on spike-like racemes from axils of leaves, often from alternate axils. Calyx 4-parted; corolla of 4 lobes, lower lobe commonly narrowest ; 2 divergent stamens inserted at base and on either side of upper corolla lobe ; a knob-like stigma on solitary pistil. Stem: From 3 to io in. long, hairy, often prostrate, and rooting at joints. Leaves: Opposite, oblong, obtuse, saw-edged, narrowed at base. Fruit: Compressed heart-shaped capsule, containing numerous flat seeds.
Preferred Habitat—Dry fields, uplands, open woods.
Distribution—From Michigan and Tennessee eastward, also from Ontario to Nova Scotia. Probably an immigrant from Europe and Asia.
An ancient tradition of the Roman Church relates that when Jesus was on His way to Calvary, He passed the home of a certain Jewish maiden, who, when she saw the drops of agony on His brow, ran after Him along the road to wipe His face with her kerchief. This linen, the monks declared, ever after bore the impress of the sacred features—vera iconica, the true likeness. When the Church wished to canonize the pitying maiden, an abbreviated form of the Latin words was given her, St. Veronica, and her kerchief became one of the most precious relics at St. Peter's, where it is said to be still preserved. Mediaeval flower lovers, whose piety seems to have been eclipsed only by their imaginations, named this little flower from a fancied resemblance to the relic. Of course, special healing virtue was attributed to the square of pictured linen, and since all could not go to Rome to be cured by it, naturally the next step was to employ the common, wayside plant that bore the saint's name. Mental healers will not be surprised to learn that because of the strong popular belief in its efficacy to cure all fleshly ills, it actually seemed to possess miraculous powers. For scrofula it was said to be the infallible remedy, and presently we find Linnaeus grouping this flower, and all its relatives under the family name of Scrofulariacex. " What's in a name?" Religion, theology, medicine, folk-lore, metaphysics, what not?
One of the most common wild flowers in England is this same familiar little blossom of that lovely shade of blue known by Chinese artists as "the sky after rain." "The prettiest of all humble roadside flowers I saw," says Burroughs, in " A Glance at British Wild Flowers." "It is prettier than the violet, and larger and deeper colored them our houstonia. It is a small and delicate edition of our hepatica, done in indigo blue, and wonted to the grass in the fields and by the waysides.
`The little speedwell's darling blue'
sings Tennyson. I saw it blooming with the daisy and butter-cup upon the grave of Carlyle. The tender human and poetic element of his stern, rocky nature was well expressed by it."
Only as it grows in masses is the speedwell conspicuous—a sufficient reason for its habit of forming colonies and of gathering its insignificant blossoms together into dense spikes, since by these methods it issues a flaunting advertisement of its nectar. The flower that simplifies dining for insects has its certain reward in rapidly increased and vigorous descendants. To save repetition, the reader interested in the process of fertilization is referred to the account of the Maryland figwort, since many members of the large family to which both belong employ the same method of economizing pollen and insuring fertile seed. In this case visitors have only to crawl over the tiny blossoms.
From Labrador to AIaska, throughout almost every section of the United States, in South America, Europe, and Asia, roams the Thyme-leaved Speedwell (V. serpyllifolia), by the help of its numerous flat seeds, that are easily transported on the wind, and by its branching stem, that lies partly on the ground, rooting where the joints touch earth. The small oval leaves, barely half an inch long, grow in pairs. The tiny blue, or sometimes white, flowers, with dark pathfinders to the nectary, are borne on spike-like racemes at the ends of the stem and branches that rear themselves upward in fields and thickets to display their bloom before the passing bee.