National Geographic : 1922 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE The stamens and pistils of the scented water lily mature at different times, thus insuring cross-fertilization. SHEEP SORREL Rumex acetosella L. [Plate II, left] The sheep sorrel is another of the plant world immigrants to America that deserves deportation as an undesirable alien; but, like the English sparrows of the feathery kingdom, it lights its way into every community by its fecundity. Rivers, mountains, quarantines, every barrier that nature or man has set up against it, has been overridden. Even the Rockies, which have stood as a wall of adamant against the serried hosts of most westward bound floral invasions, have been too low to keep the sheep sorrel in check; so that it is found from ocean to ocean and from Canada to Mlexico. The plant by some is known as field sorrel and by others as sour grass. It invades hay and pasture fields and crowds out the valuable grasses. Likewise, it disputes with the new sown winter wheat for control of ground on which it has secured a foothold. Only the most persistent harrowing of the ground before seeding time will hold it in check until the wheat can come up and grow strong enough for the fray with the hardy foe. The sheep sorrel is a member of the buck wheat family. Among its cousins are the buck wheats, the docks, the knot-weeds, the smart weeds and the tear-thumbs. It grows from six to twelve inches tall and when mature gives the field which it has colonized a real sorrel top appearance. ENGLISH PLANTAIN Plantago lanceolata L. [Plate II, right] Like the charlock, corn cockle, and the sheep sorrel, the English plantain is an alien which came to our shores as a stowaway and has made America its own. It has sundry names in (livers localities, such as ribgrass, narrow plantain, and ripple-grass. It blossoms from June to September and fights stubbornly for position in both field and lawn. Its seeds ma ture about the same time as clover seed, and it is indeed a "tare among the wheat" when the farmer wants to sow his clover. The English plantain places its homely cone of greenish buds on a tall grooved stem. These buds mature as brownish flowers, so minute as to be almost indistinguishable. The ones at the bottom open first, and then the procession moves up the cone, (lay by day, until each row of flowers has taken its turn at blooming. These flowers possess long-extending anthers mounted on filamentous stamens, and they float around the cone as the rings of Saturn around the planet. In the illustration one may see the cones at the various stages. BLUE VERVAIN Verbena hastata L. [Plate III, left] Growing from four to six feet tall, with its flowering spikes branching upward like the arms of a candelabra, the blue vervain, whose flowers are more purple and violet than blue. possesses a range as wide as any other plant species in America, almost the entire United States and Canada being home soil to it. \ild hyssop and simpler's joy are other names for it. One always regrets that Verbena hastata has a way of maturing the blossoms on each spike a few at a time instead of all at once, for seeds at the bottom of the spike, flowers in the middle, and buds at the top do not produce the pretty effect that a spike full of flowers would. The late John Burroughs, who could always be relied on to find beauty in any flower that possessed a trace of it, wrote of its drooping knotty threads as making "pretty etching upon the winter snow." The blue vervain is a favorite with the hum blebees, which, with many other members of the bee family and the bee-like fly species, gather at its festal board. It borrowed its name, simpler's joy, from a European sister, and has also appropriated many of the latter's traditions and much of its folklore. No plant that the herb-gatherer could find was more salable than the vervain; hence none brought so much joy to the simple peasant. The vervain is known abroad as the holy herb, and was one of the plants sacred to the Druids of England. Likewise, it was held sa cred to Thor, the God of Thunder, and was supposed to exert a peculiar influence upon the eyesight. It is said to have been found grow ing on Mt. Calvary, and is reputed, in the folk lore of Europe, to stimulate affection and to be able to break the power of witches. PICKERELWEED Pontederia cordata L. [Plate III, right] The pickerelweed is one of the members of the plant kingdom that insists upon making its home in the water, usually preferring the shal low waters of a stagnant pond. It is a tall plant, with one blunt, arrow-head shaped leaf, varying to a very elongated tri angle. Above this leaf rises a spike about fo:r inches long, from which issue numerous more or less irregular ephemeral, violet-blue flowers, each marked with a distinct yellow-green spot. That ever-delightful biographer of the folk of Nature's garden, Neltje Blanchan, called the pickerelweed a vigorous wader, a sort of floral crane, and reminds us that in the backwoods people think that this plant is the favored resort of the pickerel when she deposits her eggs. A botanist who made a careful study of Pontederia cordata says that its flowers occur in three forms, not on the same, but on liffer ent plants, excelling even the purple loosestrife in the striking type of its dimorphism. Unable to set seed without insect aid, they resort to what seems little short of marvelous tactics to get the maximum benefit out of the visits of their winged guests. In one type of flower the stigma is raised on a long style to the very top of the blossom; in the second type the stigma comes half way up the flower cup; in the third type it remains at the bottom.