Flowers - Obedient Plant; False Dragonhead; Lion's Heart
( Originally Published 1916 )
(Physostegia Virginiana) Mint family
Flowers—Pale magenta, purplish rose, or flesh-colored, often variegated with white, 1 in. long or over, in dense spikes from 4 to 8 in. long. Calyx a 5-toothed oblong bell, swollen and remaining open in fruit, held up by lance-shaped bracts. Corolla tubular and much enlarged where it divides into 2 lips, the upper lip concave, rounded, entire, the lower lip 3 lobed. Stamens 4, in two pairs under roof of upper lip, the filaments hairy ; 1 pistil. Stem 1 to 4 ft. high, simple or branched above, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, firm, oblong to oblong-lanceolate, narrowing at base, deeply saw-edged.
Preferred Habitat—Moist soil.
Distribution—Quebec to the Northwest Territory, southward to the Gulf of Mexico as far west as Texas.
Bright patches of this curious flower enliven railroad ditches, gutters, moist meadows and brooksides—curious, for it has the peculiarity of remaining in any position in which it is placed. With one puff a child can easily blow the blossoms to the opposite side of the spike, there to stay in meek obedience to his will. " The flowers are made to assume their definite position," says Professor W. W. Bailey in the " Botanical Gazette," "by friction of the pedicels against the subtending bracts. Remove the bracts, and they at once fall limp."
Of course the plant has some better reason for this peculiar obedience to every breath that blows than to amuse windycheeked boys and girls. Is not the ready movement useful during stormy weather in turning the mouth of the flower away from driving rain, and in fair days, when insects are abroad, in presenting its gaping lips where they can best alight ? We all know that insects, like birds, make long flights most easily with the wind, but in rising and alighting it is their practice to turn against it. When bees, for example, are out for food on windy days, and must make frequent stops for refreshment among the flowers, they will be found going against the wind, possibly to catch the whiffs of fragrance borne on it that guide them to feast, but more likely that they may rise and alight readily. One always sees bumblebees conspicuous among the obedient plant's visitors. After the anthers have shed their pollen—and tiny teeth at the edges of the outer pair aid its complete removal by insects—the stigma comes up to occupy their place under the roof. Certainly this flower, which is so illadapted to fertilize itself, has every reason to court insect messengers in fair and stormy weather.