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A Group Of Wild Flowers
Wildflower Families:
 Figwort Family

 Pokeweed Family

 St. John's-wort And Wild Carrot Families

 Composite Family

 Gentian Family

 Read More Articles About: Wildflower Families

Composite Family

( Originally Published 1908 )


THE great family of plants in which the flowers are closely crowded together into a flat head, as illustrated in the case of the familiar Sunflower, is called Compositæ. This includes a large pro-portion of the conspicuous wild flowers found throughout the season. While the most of these blossom during the summer and autumn months a few species are much in evidence through the spring and early summer.

SPRING EVERLASTING. The Spring or Plantain Everlasting has been blessed with quite a variety of common names. It is often called the Mouse-eared Everlasting and Early Everlasting, as well as White Plantain and Pussy Toes. In New England it is commonly called Indian Tobacco, while the botanists give Ladies' Tobacco as one of its names. I think its genus name—Antennaria—a pretty one and wish the plant might be generally so called. This name was given because of the fancy that the pappus of the stamen-bearing flowers resembles the feelers or antennae of insects.

This Antennaria is a perennial, the basal rosette of the broadly oval leaves passing through the winter and sending up in spring the woolly stems which bear upon their tips the inconspicuous white blossoms. A glance at these shows that they belong to the Composite family, in which many tiny flowers are crowded together in a single head, each stem bearing about five of these heads. A little further study shows also that the pollen-bearing and the seed-bearing flowers are upon quite distinct plants. The bracts around the base of each flower head are densely woolly like the stems, and the flower heads themselves are made dense by the erect pappus arising from each floret. By cutting a vertical section of the pistil-late blossom you can easily see, through the lens, the little undeveloped achenes resting on the receptacle, each bearing the many slender vertical white hairs that make up the pappus, and the long style which projects beyond the pappus and holds the two-lobed stigma well away from them, so that when the pollen-laden insects come to the flowers the stigmas rather than the pappus receive the pollen grains.

The pollen-bearing flowers are borne in shorter, broader heads than the seed-bearing ones. The reddish or brownish anther tubes project beyond the general whiteness of the head and are tipped with the yellow pollen, so that these blossoms are comparatively conspicuous. Their stems, how-ever, are shorter than those of the others by several inches. Like the Dandelion the stalk of the seed head lengthens as the fruits mature.

GOLDEN RAGWORT. The Golden Ragwort is a conspicuous flower in early summer in wet meadows and along streams. It is a composite blossom, the ray florets being clear yellow and the central florets orange yellow. It has a distinct and rather pleasing odor.

ROBIN'S PLANTAIN. The Robin's Plantain seems to be generally a hillside or roadside flower, where its Aster-like blossoms may be seen as you walk or drive along in early June. Blue Spring Daisy is an appropriate name by which it is sometimes called. The ray florets are blue-purple while the center florets are yellow. It is a widely distributed species and one of the most interesting of the early flowering plants of the Composite family.

WHITE DAISY. The Ox-eye Daisy or White Daisy is one of the most abundant blossoms of early summer in many parts of the United States. It is a pestiferous weed in neglected meadow lands, and grows in great numbers along the road-sides. This is the flower of which Bliss Carman wrote :

Over the shoulders and slopes of the dune
I saw the white daisies go down to the sea;
A host in the sunshine, a snowdrift in June,
The people God sends us to set our hearts free.

And how beautiful they are, even if they have crowded out the grass of the meadows to the despair of the owners. They yield a rich harvest to the eyes of all discerning beholders, and may be used in unstinted abundance in interior decorations. But in the latter case they should not be crowded into jars and vases. Out of doors they are sufficiently separated for each flower to reveal its beauty and the hint should be taken in displaying them inside.

By midsummer the members of the great family of composite plants have fairly begun their reign.

They abound on every hand and are conspicuous in their various tints of red, yellow and blue. In many species the flower-heads are small individually, being massed together so as to attract attention, as in the Goldenrods, and without distinctive ray florets that render the plants very conspicuous. In other species, as in the group to which the Sunflower belongs, there are distinct ray florets around the outside of the head which serve to render the flower-heads conspicuous from a distancee. Several species of the latter type come into blossom during the summer. The Rudbeckiia or Cone-flower is one of these; the Coreopsis and Sneeze-weeds are others, while there are several species of the wild Sunflowers. These various blossoms show striking tones of yellow and by the road-sides or in the fields they do much to light up the summer landscape.

CONE-FLOWER. July is the gala month for the Cone-flowers, often called Brown-eyed Daisies and sometimes Black-eyed Susans. When they first appear in all the freshness of their brown and gold they are really very attractive. They abound in meadows and pastures as well as along roadsides, where they make a gorgeous show of color and are visited by a great variety of insects.

CHICORY. While generally not so deep a color tone as the cerulean hue of the Fringed Gentian the violet-blue petals of the Chicory blossoms may surely vie with any flowers in the tenderness and delicacy of their tints. These vary much in different blossoms as well, probably, as in the same blossom at different ages, but the petals show always a bit of beautiful color. The plant is often also called Succory, and, as is well known, its roots are commonly used as a substitute for coffee, sometimes legitimately but more often as an unlawful adulterant. The species grows along fences and highways, coming into bloom about midsummer and remaining in blossom until frost.

TANSY. The rich, aromatic smell of the Tansy is familiar to everyone who has wandered along country lanes in summer. Starting perhaps from an old garden where it was planted early in our colonial history, the species has found its way in waste places along fields and roadsides. The small yellow flowers are so massed in heads as to become decidedly conspicuous. This leads to the visits of many short-tongued insects, although to most people there is little temptation to gather these blossoms for close inspection by sight or smell. Fortunately, children no longer have reason to hate the sight of the plant, as they did in former times when Tansy tea was commonly used as a medicine.

YARROW. The Yarrow is another plant that seems to follow civilized man wherever he may go. As it grows by our waysides it seems to have comparatively little interest for us, but nevertheless it has been associated with human history to a remarkable extent. In former times it was also largely used as a medicine.

BONESET. The Boneset is to be found during the weeks of late summer in low, wet meadows and along the borders of marshes. It may be recognized by its composite clusters of white flow-ers and its opposite leaves joined together at their bases, with the stem of the plant rising from the middle. In earlier years Boneset tea was largely used as a medicine and Boneset taffy was a home-made candy used as a cough cure.

JOE-PYE WEED. During the latter part of summer the pinkish flower-heads of the Joe-Pye weed or Purple Boneset are among the most attractive blossoms in wet places and along the borders of marshes. This is one of the Composites having no ray flowers, so that the color effect is due to tubular florets and some rows of pinkish overlapping bracts belonging to the involucre that surrounds the flower-head. In bare, dry soil it may rise three feet, while in rich, moist soil it may reach three times that height. The flowers are freely visited by butterflies and bees. Its name is due to a famous Indian medicine-man in New England, who used in it his practice.

IRON-WEED. Another familiar flower of late summer and early autumn is the Iron-weed. This is easily recognized as a member of the great family of composite plants having no ray florets. Its purplish-red flower-heads are borne on short stems in such a way as to make broad clusters, on account of which the plant is called Flat Top in some localities. The flowers have a general resemblance to small thistle-heads and are freely visited by many bees and butterflies.

THE GOLDENRODS. During the weeks of late summer and early autumn the Goldenrods are the most effective members of Nature's floral pageant. They cover the hills with a mantle of beautiful yellow ; they light up the dark swamps with spots of glowing gold ; they fringe the roadsides with tassels of inimitable grace; they dot the open woods with miniature circles of golden beauty. It has well been argued that no other flower has so just and fitting a claim to be considered our national emblem.

The ubiquity of the Goldenrod is largely due to the fact that there are many species, each in general adapted to a particular sort of situation. The first to tell us that mid-summer is at hand and autumn not far off is the Early, or Sharp-toothed Goldenrod, which in some regions comes into blossom in June. It is often closely followed by the Cut-leaved Goldenrod, while soon after a host of species come into bloom. The Canada Golden-rod is one of the most abundant and widely distributed of these. It is a splendid plant, sometimes reaching the height of a tall man, though more commonly but three or four feet high. In an open spot in the woods one day I saw a clump of brilliant Goldenrods having the flowers distributed up and down the vertical stem in a most beautiful fashion. It was the Bicolored Goldenrod, and was one of the most decorative plants I ever saw; for weeks it remained a joy to all beholders.

It is well known that when a plant grows in shady places it is likely to have a greater leaf area than when it grows in the open sunshine. It must have a larger surface to collect the light when the latter is comparatively dim. Now most of the Goldenrods live in the open fields, having rather narrow leaves ;but the exquisite Elm-leaved Goldenrod lives in woods and copses, where the shadows are thick and direct sunshine is a fleeting thing. And so we find that this species

has the broad, thin leaves of a shade-plant, leaves with well developed stems, but otherwise so similar to those of the Elm tree as to give this Goldenrod its distinctive name. But it adds, a touch of color to the somber shades of the woods that we should not willingly do without.

Many of the Goldenrods are so similar in appearance that it is difficult to distinguish the species, but the Lance-leaved variety is so distinct that it can be told at a glance. It belongs in fact to such a different type of plant that the botanists have placed it in a genus distinct from that of the true Goldenrods. The long narrow leaves with smooth margins have no stems, and the fragrant flowers are borne in clustered heads that give the plant the appearance of having a flat top. Because of this the variety is not nearly so attractive as many of the true Goldenrods.

With the many people who pass the summer months along the shores of the Atlantic, the Sea-side Goldenrod is an especial favorite. This species is more robust than most of the others, and its great masses of golden flowers stand out in bold relief along the borders of the salt marshes or against the background of the sea. It was a favorite of Celia Thaxter's, whose beautiful lines will always give the plant an especial charm :

Graceful, tossing plumes of glowing gold,
Waving lonely on the rocky ledge;
Leaning seaward, lovely to behold,
Clinging to the high cliff's ragged edge.

ASTERS. September and October are the show months for the great group of native Asters. Their violet-blue tints make a perfect complementary color harmony with the yellow hues of the Goldenrods, so Nature seems bent upon getting the most delightful results as she brings her season's pageant to an end. Many of the early Asters may be found blossoming in August, but the most typical and attractive kinds make their chief display in September and linger through the greater part of October. The species called the New England Aster—although it has a much wider range than this name would indicate—is perhaps as general a favorite as any. It bears in great profusion thick masses of violet or purple blossoms that light up the fields and roadsides most charmingly.

Several of the Asters are named according to the shape of their leaves. The Heart-leaved Aster has rather small flowers with the rays of a blue-lavender tint; its stems are branching, each branch bearing a cluster of blossoms. The Wavy-leaved Aster is so called because of the irregular margins of the leaves. It grows in pastures along the borders of woods and bears lavender-purple flowers. The leaves of the Long-leaved Aster are very slender; it bears violet blossoms in profusion and is especially found in wet places. There are many other species of the genus, some bearing white and others purple blossoms.

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