National Geographic : 1947 Jul
European Meadows and Our Lawns WHEN botanists trace such things as those shown on the opposite page back to their ancestral forms, it is found that originally, millions of years ago, they were neither bulbous plants nor spring bloomers. Instead, their ancient progenitors usually were plants of the equable Tropics, which either were overtaken by large-scale climatic changes in their original home or began venturing into areas where climatic conditions were season ally unfavorable. It is impossible here to trace the story step by step, but eventually various types of storage mechanisms were developed -among them bulbs-which permitted the plants to tide themselves over unfavorable seasons. However, the next period favorable to growth might be too brief to permit the production of a complete set of leaves and flowers and also to bring the fruit and seed to a fully mature condition. In the untold millions of years during which this natural experimentation on how best to survive and perpetuate their kind under fluc tuating seasonal conditions was going on, the problem was attacked in various ways. Plants which had acquired the bulbous habit fre quently solved it by telescoping operations and producing the leaves and flowers for the next season at the end of the previous season's growth. All this is accomplished, usually with the new structures nearly complete and packed into a minimum of space within the protective covering of the bulb, before the plant goes into its dormant period. These preformed parts are easily seen if one cuts carefully down through a large bulb such as that of a tulip or hyacinth. They are so nearly complete that little more is needed than for the storage part of the bulb to pump water into them and blow them up to full size. The way this complicated process is regulated and the feat accomplished is another story. But the foregoing explains why bulbous plants such as those in the opposite picture can come into bloom so early in the spring. Of the plants shown opposite, the Crocus is perhaps the most easily naturalized in lawns. In this work care should be taken that we do not get the lawnmower out too early. For some weeks after the flowers have passed, the leaves are busy manufacturing the food neces sary for the production of the next year's flowers. By then the first mowing will be a little more difficult, but the Crocuses will be better for this delay. SPRING CROCUS (Crocus vernus): Of the nearly 75 species of this interesting genus, this one is most commonly planted. Being a native of southern and central Europe and frequently found in profusion in Alpine meadows, it is perhaps more at home in our northern lawns than various of the other species, most of which are native in the Mediterranean region or in western Asia. However, it is not unusual also to see sprinkled across a lawn an infiltra tion of the yellow tints of the Balkan Crocus (C. moesiacus-the specific name means "from the land of the Moesians," or Balkans), or the Cloth-of-gold Crocus (C. susianus), a native of the Crimea, but introduced into modern culture from the gardens of the ancient city of Susa in Persia. "Crocus" is the Greek name of the Saffron, another species of this genus. Unlike the plants of this group with which we are most familiar, the Saffron (Crocus sativus) blooms in the autumn; it is the source of a substance long used both as a textile dye and as a table condiment in Asia Minor. As a source of saffron, only the small, 3-parted style branches from the center of the flower are gathered. Crocuses belong to the Iris Family. SNAKES-HEAD or CHECKERED-LILY (Fritillariameleagris): There are perhaps 70 species of Fritillary scattered around the world in the North Temperate regions, some being native in North America. The European spe cies shown here, possibly because of its long domestication, seems to do as well as any in our gardens and is interesting because of its curiously mottled flowers. The shape of the flower led to the generic name; it was derived from fritillus, a dice box. The specific name, meleagris, means "speckled like a guinea hen." The fritillaries belong to the Lily Family; we shall encounter another and different species of this genus in our Persian garden (p. 30). SNOWDROP (Galanthus nivalis): This im patient little member of the Amaryllis Family is not to be trusted as a seasonal indicator, for it is likely to push up during any warmish spell after the middle of January, just in time to get itself covered again with snow. The ge neric name, Galanthus, means "milk-flower"; the specific name, nivalis, is apt, for it means "snowy." A somewhat similar species, the Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), a member of the same plant family, also a native of Europe and often planted in gardens, is sometimes confused with the Snowdrop. In the Snow drop the flowering stem is solid, and the three inner flower segments are much shorter than the three outer ones; in the Snowflake the flowering stem is hollow, and the six flower segments are essentially alike.