National Geographic : 1939 Aug
FLORAL GARLANDS OF PRAIRIE, PLAIN, AND WOODLAND WITCH HAZEL FAMILY (Hamamelidaceae) The witch hazel family has few representa tives in North America, the majority being natives of Japan, India, and Cape of Good Hope. Among them all, our liquidambar, or sweet gum, stands out as the most beautiful. It has fine-grained wood and fragrant leaves which take on such brilliant colors in autumn in this country that the trees stand out con spicuously in the swampy woods of the East. Witch Hazel Nova Scotia to Fla.; west to Minn. and Tex. Low-growing witch hazel shrubs (1) delay their blossoming until the bright-hued leaves of autumn strew the ground and trees and shrubs stand stark and bare. Then, out from tight brown buds in cream-colored calyx cups, unfurl narrow ribbonlike petals of pale yellow. There are only four to a flower, but the clusters make a beautiful showing of wavy fringe and spots of color in the winter woods. It is not until the following autumn that the seeds ripen in the pods, which then pop open with such vigor as to scatter the contents briskly to some distance in all directions. The seeds contain a useful oil, and both leaves and bark are sources of the popular extract of witch hazel. Witch hazel shrubs come into bloom in late fall and early winter when scarcely any other shrub still retains its flowers. The blossoms of some of the species in northern latitudes are not injured even when the temperature falls to zero. Before the flowers appear on bare branches, the leaves make a brave showing of color by turning bright yellow, orange, or purple. EVENING PRIMROSE FAMILY (Onagraceae) The flowers of this family are not primroses, nor do most of them open in the evening; neither does their preferred time of blooming correspond to the original meaning of the word primrose as indicating "the first flower of spring." Nevertheless, as with many common names of plants, the name "evening primrose" has come to set apart a large group of striking flowers, many of which blossom in the morning or evening to last but a single day. At first glance, the flower of an evening primrose might be mistaken for one of the mustard family, since both have four petals placed at right angles to each other. But here the resemblance stops, for in the evening prim rose the petals are borne on the long calyx tube which crowns the ovary, and the stamens num ber eight. The calyx tube may reach half a foot in length in some species, but in such a case the nectar may rise an inch or more so that it can be sipped by long-tongued moths. A number of unusually showy species are to be found within the limits of the eve ning primrose family, including the rose-purple Clarkias and Godetias of California, the Fuchsias, Epilobiums, Lopezias, and Oenothe ras. Of the latter, the yellow evening prim rose (0. missouriensis) of limestone cliffs and barrens in the Middle West and Southwest, bears blossoms sometimes six inches across. An almost equally large-flowered species (0. caespitosa) of western hills and the Rocky Mountains unfolds crinkly white petals in from two to seven minutes as dusk begins to fall. Sphinx moths await access to the honey, and after their visits the flowers gradually droop, fading to a rosy pink by morning. Trumpet Evening Primrose S. D. to Tex.; west to Ariz. and Wyo. The decumbent plants of the trumpet eve ning primrose (2), with clusters of narrow leaves, may be found in open sunny places throughout the plains and prairies of the West and Middle West. The flowers are borne in the axils of the leaf clusters at intervals along the stem, where they bloom in succession from the lower part toward the upper end. Thus one may see at any one time an un opened bud with enclosing calyx colored rose purple and green stigma emerging at the pointed tip; a full-blown blossom whose silky crinkled petals bend back sharply from the "trumpet tube" to reveal eight anthers bursting with yellow pollen; and an older flower that changes from bright yellow to reddish orange as it wilts and fades. Prairie Evening Primrose Manitoba to Mo.; west to Tex., Ariz., Alberta This little evening primrose (3), with bright orange buds, blossoms of cheery yellow, and leaves cut into teeth along the edges, blooms from May to July in the dry soil of the prairies. It should, however, be called "morn ing primrose," since the flowers reverse the order of blooming by opening in the morning and closing in late afternoon. The common evening primrose (0. biennis), however, is more orthodox, opening at dusk and so quickly that the movement is plainly evident. Hawk moths are fond of this denizen of waste places and flutter about as the day light wanes, awaiting the opening of bright yellow blossoms well supplied with nectar. The root of this species is sweet and edible, and the plant yields a remedy used for coughs and asthma, but on the whole evening prim roses have no economic value. Scarlet Gaura Manitoba to Tex.; west to Ariz. and Mont. Gaura flowers individually have a quaint and delicate charm, but they make no great showing as loose clusters on rather rangy, leafy plants (4). The color is normally a pale coral pink, but as the petals age they take on a deep scarlet tinge that increases their attractiveness, espe cially as stems and capsules are often reddish also, and the anther sacs are crimson.