St. John's-wort And Wild Carrot Families
Read More Articles About: Wildflower Families
( Originally Published 1908 )
THE Figwort family is a large group containing a considerable variety of interesting wild flowers. These usually have the petals united together into a tube with two distinct lips at the outer end. There are two or four stamens and a two-celled ovary from which arises a single style that sometimes bears two stigmas. The ovaries develop into pods with a varying number of seeds.
WOOD BETONY. One of the most interesting members of the Figwort family is the Wood Betony, Pedicularis, Louse-wort, or Beefsteak Plant, as it is variously known. This is a low-growing plant, generally found in rather dry fields, with its blossoms in compact heads which come into flower late in spring or early in summer. The corollas are bent to one side at the outer end and so arranged in spirals that when a bumble-bee alights upon the lowest flower it can easily and rapidly visit all the others. The structure of the flower renders cross-pollination by such visitors almost certain.
" Farmers once believed that after their sheep fed on the foliage of this group of plants," writes Neltje Blanchan, " a skin disease produced by a certain tiny louse (Pediculus) would attack them —hence our innocent Betony's repellant. name of Louse-wort."
BUTTER-AND-EGGS. From the middle of July until frost the yellow blossoms of the Butter-and-Eggs are much in evidence by roadsides and in waste places. Although this plant, which is also known as Toadflax, is an importation from abroad, it has become very widely distributed in America. Its yellow flowers and light green foliage are a welcome addition to Nature's summer decorations, while the nectar that it holds in the spur below the blossom is eagerly sought by bumble-bees. These busy creatures have long since learned the secret of opening the door that is so fast closed to most other insects. The worker bumble-bees are the only sort abundant late in summer, and the size of these blossoms is perfectly adapted to their visits. If you open the flowers you can see how the bees are dusted with pollen.
This plant spreads by means of short root-stocks which run out in all directions and take complete possession of the soil.
MULLEIN. I presume the plebeian Mullein is not often considered a beautiful plant. Yet there is a certain decorative value to it that we should miss did we not find it here and there in pasture and field. The great woolly leaves with their velvety surfaces and rounded margins seem to belong to the irregular surface of the stem, while the long head of inconspicuous blossoms and ripening fruits also carry out the idea of a plant that asks only to be let alone, except by the flying insects that come to pollinate it. It is not a plant that we gather to bring indoors as we do the Goldenrods, but it nevertheless serves a purpose in adorning the landscape.
MOTH MULLEIN. The Moth Mullein is another abundant and widely distributed plant which is worth a little attention from the nature student. The beautiful waxy white or yellowish petals have five stamens projecting from between their bases, each of the stamens being thickly set with violet-colored hairs that give to the flower a very attractive appearance when seen through the lens. These flowers are borne in long racemes, blossoming in succession for several weeks. They are followed by conspicuous pods, from which the tiny seeds are scattered.
TURTLE-HEAD. One of the oddest blossoms of all the wild flowers is the Turtle-head or Snake-head. You may easily find it from mid-summer until late in autumn if you go to damp places along the borders of woods. The curious white flowers are borne on leafy stems that reach a height of from one to three and more feet. Each flower is rather large and at first sight is suggestive of a Closed Gentian slightly modified. Instead of being vertical, however, it projects sideways and has a distinct mouth which the worker bumble-bees enter to reach the nectar at the bottom of the corolla. By so doing they bring about the cross-pollination of the plant. The bees often have some difficulty in entering the blossom, as you may readily see by a little watching. The anthers mature before the stigmas and thus insure cross-fertilization.
The flowers are succeeded by interesting pods which split apart to let the seeds fly out when strong winds blow the upright stalks over far enough. The seeds are flat and margined so that they are easily carried by such winds.