National Geographic : 1939 Aug
FLOWER PAGEANT OF THE MIDWEST From March to November Nature Embroiders an Ever-changing Pattern of Living Color By EDITH S. AND FREDERIC E. CLEMENTS* With Paintings and Biographies of 125 Flowers by Edith S. Clements EARLY on a brilliant May morning in 1811, John Bradbury clambered up a steep bluff of the Missouri River just above the mouth of the Platte and looked westward over the prairie, which stretched in swelling waves as far as the eye could reach. Both botanist and intrepid explorer, he had set out from England two years be fore to discover plant novelties for public gardens, at a time when the flowers of the prairies were still little known. Now he viewed the spring display at the height of its color, set against the intense verdure of the grasses and forming a kalei doscope of many-hued blossoms spread over Nature's vast palette of green. On the cooler slopes, anemones in pink and blue swayed in the wind, and buffalo plums like purple shadows lingered past their season. The warmer hillsides were mantled with a mosaic of violets, phlox, puccoons, false indigo, and spiderworts mingled freely or clustered to deepen each varied tint. A BOTANIST'S PARADISE Bradbury was profoundly impressed by the grandeur of the view with its endless undulations and declared that he had never seen a landscape to match the prairie in beauty, however much embellished by art. He expressed the belief that the prairies would become one of the most beautiful countries in the world. To those who saw them at a later time, but before the period of general settlement, his praise seemed in no wise extravagant. Spring comes unheralded to the prairies, since the first diminutive harbingers are scarcely to be perceived among the crowd ing shoots of grass. These are red-brown * See "The Family Tree of the Flowers," by Frederic E. Clements and William Joseph Sho walter, and "Wild Flowers of the West," 206 illus trations in color by Edith S. Clements, both in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for May, 1927. See also The Book of Wild Flowers, published by the National Geographic Society, $3 in United States and Possessions, elsewhere $3.25. dwarfs fitted to brave the chill breath of March as they snuggle close to the warm earth out of reach of late winter's blasts. First to peep forth are the tiny primroses and whitlows, followed soon by pussytoes, anemones, and tuliplike pasqueflowers, and then by prairie fennel sprawling over warm sandy slopes. In neighboring woodlands of oak and hickory, the first blooms of snowy wake robin, varied hepaticas, white and yellow adder's-tongues, and the blushing rue anemone waken to throw off their blankets of leaf mold, and the trailing arbutus dis tills the magic of its evergreen leaves in fragrant bells. A SEASON-LONG PARADE MARCHES BY These forerunners meet few rivals for the favor of early spring and they rapidly ex tend their pure or blended colors over wooded dell and hillside. With an auspi cious start, all of the first-comers gather such momentum as to carry them well into the throng of spring bloomers during April and May. April on the prairie is ushered in by spreading troops of slender windflowers in blue and white and sturdier pasqueflowers in rougher coats well suited to northern climes. Shooting stars may accompany them in serried ranks, and on the flanks the yellow parsley marches along the ridges. As the sun's rays strike more directly, birdsfoot and larkspur violets with golden buttercups press in throngs over meadow and hill slope, and violet oxalis and trailing strawberries hide among the clumps of grass. Marsh marigolds brighten moist lowlands and bogs, while spiderworts and blue-eyed grass enliven meadows with blue and rose, dotted with the gold of starworts. May arrives with the advent of warm days and tall plants of yellow false indigo hang out their long racemes and blend colors with the orange and yellow of the puccoons, in vivid contrast to the pink phloxes which bejewel the curving swales and gentle slopes.