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A Group Of Wild Flowers
Wildflower Families:

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Wild Flower Families

( Originally Published 1908 )



The Buttercup is a typical example of the great Crowfoot family, which includes a considerable number of our most familiar wild flowers. A large proportion of these are annuals, although some are perennials. They nearly all have acrid juices in the stems and leaves. Both sepals and petals are usually present, the former often being petal-like. A large proportion of the flowers of early spring belong to this family, the Latin name being derived from that of the genus Ranunculus, to which the Buttercups belong.

HEPATICA. The Hepatica or Liver-leaf may fairly claim to be the first of the spring wild flowers. The Swamp Cabbage is not commonly recognized as a flower, and the Bloodroot is too local in its distribution to be universally known, while the Trailing Arbutus is more limited in its geographic range than the Hepatica. Consequently it seems safe to say that for most people the Hepatica is the first wild flower of the season. And it is a very fitting leader for the light-footed procession that is to follow through the golden days of spring. All winter the buds have waited, with seeming impatience, the word to start, and as soon as the snow upon the southern slopes begins to disappear these buds creep upward, the three large bracts that cover the blossom open slightly and the tender flowers unclose, revealing the stamens and pistils within.

Quite often these earliest blossoms have to endure an April snowstorm, a peril that they bravely withstand. Even fire does not subdue them, for they are among the few flowers which appear in spring in woods that have been burned over. One may sometimes see railroad embankments on which the singed and blackened turf is lighted up in early spring with clusters cf these blossoms. In such cases one can but wonder how the buds have managed to escape destruction, when even the last year's leaves have been seared by fire. It is true, however, that these last year's leaves have served their purpose, so that their destruction matters little to the plant. The new leaves, snugly folded and densely covered with whitish hairs, just beginning to push up, look like flower buds as they are massed together at the bases of the blossom stems. This velvety covering is an excellent protection in preventing the drying out of the young leaves in winter, and it is evident that it admirably serves this purpose.

As if to show that the procession which it leads is not to be monotonous in its color tones, the Hepatica reveals a charming variation of tints. Many of the blossoms are pure white; others have a pinkish lilac hue; and others, especially those exposed to direct sunshine, exhibit lovely tones of lavender and mauve.

The habitat of the Liverwort seems largely determined by the supply of water. One may frequently find it by the low margins of streams or on the banks of ponds, as well as on hillsides where springs yield sufficient moisture. In damp, open woods the plant is often abundant. Yet it is by no means always to be found in the situations that seem favorable to its growth.

The blossoms of the Liver-leaf yield pollen in abundance and apparently they also have a little nectar for the bees and flies that visit them. They are adapted to a wide range of such visitors : in Illinois eleven species of bees and seven species of flies were seen alighting upon the blossoms of the Sharp-lobed Liver-leaf. Cross-pollination is brought about by these insects, but if none of them happen to go to the flower self-pollination takes place.

Two American species of Hepatica are now recognized by leading botanists : the one in which the lobes of the leaves are rounded is called the Round-lobed Liver-leaf; the one in which the lobes of the leaves are pointed is called the Sharp-lobed Liver-leaf. In both of these species the sepals look like petals, none of the latter being present. One might very easily mistake the three sessile leaves or bracts, which are borne on the stalk below the flowers, for the sepals.

MARSH MARIGOLD If you would be reminded of that field of Daffodils immortalized by Words-worth in his famous poem, you should see a spring landscape adorned with the brilliant blossoms of the Marsh Marigold. In the open fields the trailing water courses are marked by the masses of yellow flowers, while in the woods the marshy places show great vistas of them. In sunlight or in shadow the plant is equally beautiful, its golden bloom mingling with its yellow-green foliage and the lush vegetation of its water-loving neighbors. It generally grows in standing or in slowly running water, the large flowers being held above the surface by the hollow, furrowed stems, which also bear the broad, smooth, round or kidney-s h a p e d leaves.

The blossoms expand an inch and a half and consist of from five to nine petaloid sepals with numerous stamens and five to ten pistils. Both stamens and pistils mature about the same time, but the outer rows of the former shed their pollen before the inner rows. The flowers are freely visited by bright-colored flies, called Syrphus flies, that are abundant in swampy places, these flies being attracted to the blossoms by their bright color and feeding chiefly on the pollen, although some of them suck the nectar which is secreted in abundance on the sides of the pistils. Small bees and even large bumble-bees are also attracted by this supply of sweetness as well as by the golden pollen. Al-though self-pollination is possible, cross-pollination appears generally to take place.

For a century or more Marsh Marigolds have been utilized for " greens " in America, having been commonly sold for that purpose under the name of " cowslips " in Boston and New York early in the history of these cities. The name Cowslip, as applied to this plant, is incorrect, however, the English Cowslip being quite a different species.

These Marigolds are always beautiful but there are two situations where they appeal to one with especial force. One is when they outline the course of a shallow meadow run, appearing as a broad yellow stripe through the greening grass. The effect is distinctly decorative, poster-like in the simplicity of its outlines. The other is a picture in the woods seen when, in the midst of a growth of sombre pines, one comes upon a glade sparsely interspersed with Alders, with broad-leaved grasses and sedges furnishing a charming canvas upon which Nature has painted the golden glory of the blossoms, that stand more erect and on longer stems than in the open fields. Such a scene, overhung with the drooping catkins of the Birches, among whose branches the brilliant Red-starts are flitting, may well typify the season of spring. it is in just such situations that:

" The lush marsh marigold shines like fire
In swamps and hollows gray."

WOOD ANEMONE. The charm of the Wood Anemone is perennial. In early spring its delicate beauty adds a peculiar delight to the borders of woods and untravelled roads. The modest blossoms—white, save where touched to pink or purple by the kisses of the sun—are lightly attached to the slender, arched pedicels, to be swayed by every breath of wind, or to droop more heavily when a bee or fly alights to sip the nectar invisible to human eyes. The leaves, in a whorl of three, spring from the single smooth stem of the plant, taking into their own stems much of the robustness of the main stalk and leaving but a slender pedicel for the support of the flower. Each leaf is divided into three leaflets which in their turn are deeply cut and lobed, permitting great freedom of motion in the wind. The rootstock is perennial and rather slender : it is continually spreading out and sending up new leaves to develop later in blossom-bearing plants. As Professor Bigelow wrote, early in the nineteenth century : " The whole plant is acriminous to the taste." Possibly this is the reason why the root-stocks used to be recommended for the cure of rheumatism.

We owe to the delicate fancy of the Greeks the name Anemone "—the wind flower. It is interesting to know that a species very similar to our own is found over a large part of Europe, where, as with us, the flowers " are an ornament to many a woodland scene and mountain pasture in April and May."

When the blossoms first open, the stamens are curved over the pistils, but the filaments soon straighten and leave the stigmas more exposed, so that both anthers and stigmas are mature when insect visitors arrive. These guests are chiefly small bees and flies : both collect pollen and some of the bees appear to find nectar on the receptacle below the pistils.

The time of blossoming of our Wood Anemone has been well indicated by the poet Bryant :

Within the woods,

Whose young and half transparent leaves scarce cast a shade,

Gay circles of anemones dance on their stalks.

And the same picture has been painted by Henry van Dyke in the familiar lines :

The flocks of young anemones

Are dancing 'round the budding trees.

RUE ANEMONE. The Rue Anemone is at once distinguished from the Wood Anemone by the presence of several flowers upon one stalk, in place of the single blossom of the latter. The former is frequently the taller of the two, although it grows in much the same situations, both species often being found intermingled. In the Rue Anemone three to five or more of the small white flowers project in an umbel from the whorl of leaves. There are five to ten of the petaloid sepals, some of which may have the white slightly tinged with pink. Both the stamens and pistils are numerous and the flower expands half to three-quarters of an inch. The flower stalks are very slender, while the main stem is smooth but considerably thicker. The principal leaves which spring from the root are compound, with the two or three divisions bearing small, rounded leaflets with notches dividing the outer end into three lobes, the middle of which is much the largest. The plant is a perennial with a cluster of tuberous roots that look like miniature sweet potatoes. The flowers seem to be visited by the same sorts of insects that frequent the blossoms of the Wood Anemone.

FALSE RUE ANEMONE. In the states of the Middle West the False Rue Anemone is abundant in damp woods, where its patches of white blossoms are among the earliest of the spring flowers and remain in evidence for more than a month. In general appearance it resembles the Rue Anemone but it may easily be distinguished by its roots, which are fibrous rather than tuberous, and by its branching stems from which the flowers arise in different places. The plant is five to ten inches high. The blossoms expand nearly an inch, being white, often slightly tinged with pink, with five petal-like sepals, many stamens and three to seven pistils. Mr. Charles Robertson has found fifty species of insects visiting these blossoms in Illinois. He concludes that the flower is especially adapted to short-tongued insects, which get both honey and pollen from it. In view of these numerous visitors the blossom must be generally cross-pollenized.

WILD COLUMBINE. The Daisy was the flower James Montgomery had in mind when he wrote :

But this bold floweret climbs the hill,
Hides in the forest, haunts the glen,
Plays on the margins of the rill,
Peeps round the fox's den.

But the lines might well have been written of the lovely Wild Columbine. Along the rocky shores of the New England coast its nodding blossoms color the hillsides in May, the scant soil yielding only sufficient nourishment for a growth of a foot or eighteen inches, while here and there in the richer margin of the rill or along the borders of the forest, scattered plants reach a height of two feet or more. Those which " haunt the glen " vary much in size, according to the strength of their foot-hold, but none are more picturesque than these. As you see the flaming blossoms standing out from the side of the precipitous ledge you wonder that the elements do not tear the plants from their frail supports.

The Columbine is found in blossom from April until June, the height of its season in New England and the northern states occurring in May. The long spurs secrete in their enlarged tips a store of nectar which is eagerly sought by the queen bumble-bees abroad during the period of blooming. Normally, these visitors alight on the open end of the flower, inserting their tongues through the tubes to the spur. As they make the circuit of the five nectar-spurs the under sides of their bodies and their legs rub against the stamens and pistils. In young blossoms the pistils only are extended against the body of the visitor, the stamens being as yet curved up within the flower. These soon curve out, however, so that the abundant pollen is ready to be carried from blossom to blossom. The result of this arrangement is that cross-pollination is very likely to occur through the agency of the bees that bring to newly opened flowers the pollen from those longer open.

But many bumble-bees bite through the petal-like substance of the spurs and extract the nectar through the openings thus made. On hill-sides where the Columbines are abundant nearly all the flowers may be found so punctured late in the season. But this seldom prevents the maturing of the seed in the curious long and pointed seed pods : for in case neither bees nor humming-birds visit the blossoms in the legitimate manner, the ovules are fertilized by the pollen from the stamens of the same blossom. There are five of the pods which split open when the seeds ripen ; the latter are smooth and black. As the seeds are maturing the stems which were arched while bearing the flowers, straighten out to hold the pods erect.

This flower is often called the " honeysuckle," on account of the nectar to be sucked through the spurs when the tip is opened, but this name more properly belongs to another group of plants. In some regions the blossoms are also called " red bells." These flowers are especial favorites of the humming-birds.

BANEBERRIES. In moist, rich woods the White Baneberry is one of the most characteristic plants of the latter part of spring. The smooth, robust, leafless stalk rises from the ground eight or ten inches before it sends out the one large, doubly compound leaf with the margin of its many leaf-lets cut into numerous serrate lobes, each of which is tipped with a point. Then the stalk goes on upward to hold the cluster of small white flowers, Later these flowers develop into strange white berries with a purplish black tip, which in New England have long been called " dolls' eyes." These berries are poisonous and of course should never be eaten.

The Red Baneberry is very similar to the White, the chief difference being in its bright red berries which are borne on much more slender pedicels than are those of the White Baneberry.

GOLDTHREAD. The white flowers of the Gold-thread are found in abundance in spring in damp, shady places. You may be sure of the species when you find the yellow rootstock connecting the plants. The structure of the blossom is peculiar : the sepals are white and petal-like; the stamens are small and numerous; the pistils have large curved stigmatic surfaces. But the petals are most curious : each arises from in front of and between the bases of each pair of sepals, in the form of a miniature column that gradually enlarges from below and finally ends in a cup-like disc which is yellow with a white center. Over the surface of the cup is a transparent sticky sub-stance: this is nectar, for these extraordinary petals have been developed into nectaries to feed the small, two-winged, gnat-like flies that are found in moist places in the woods. These flies carry the pollen from flower to flower as they wander in search of the nectar.

MEADOW RUE. In July the great feathery flower masses of the tall Meadow Rue are to be seen in marshy meadows and along the borders of lowland woods. The whole plant gives a very decorative effect to the landscape it adorns. The stems are slender and full of grace, while the foliage is cut into numerous small leaflets rounded behind and notched in front, and the delicate blossoms look like foamy spray. The flowers are not all alike : in general, the more conspicuous white blossoms have stamens but not pistils, while the less attractive greenish flowers have pistils but not stamens. Still others are in a transition stage, having both stamens and pistils in varying numbers. This appears to be a plant which is pollenized both through the agency of the wind and through that of the insects. The species is widely distributed, being found from Labrador to Florida on the Atlantic coast and extending westward to Ohio.

BUTTERCUPS. In those happy weeks during the latter part of spring

"When showers of buttercups
Are gilding the scene,
Like showers of gold dust
Thrown over the green."

one does not need to search far, throughout the Eastern States at least, to find examples of these lovely blossoms. In a given region there are generally several species of Buttercups but the structure of most of them is similar to that of the commonest species, the Tall or Acrid Butter-cup. The flowers of nearly all the different kinds are freely visited by a great variety of insects, especially small bees and two-winged flies.

" A little yellow buttercup
Stood laughing in the sun.
The grass all green around it
The summer just begun, Its saucy little head abrim
With happiness and fun."

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