MADDER FAMILY - Rubiaceae: Bluets; Innocence; Houstonia; Quaker Ladies; Quaker Bonnets; Venus' Pride

Houstonia caerulea

Flowers--Very small, light to purplish blue or white, with yellow centre, and borne at end of each erect slender stem that rises from 3 to 7 in. high. Corolla funnel-shaped, with 4 oval, pointed, spreading lobes that equal the slender tube in length; rarely the corolla has more divisions; 4 stamens inserted on tube of corolla; 2 stigmas; calyx 4-lobed. Leaves: Opposite, seated on stem, oblong, tiny; the lower ones spatulate. Fruit: A 2-lobed pod, broader than long, its upper half free from calyx; seeds deeply concave. Root-stalk: Slender, spreading, forming dense tufts.

Preferred Habitat--Moist meadows, wet rocks and banks.

Flowering Season--April-July, or sparsely through summer.

Distribution--Eastern Canada and United States west to Michigan, south to Georgia and Alabama.

Millions of these dainty wee flowers, scattered through the grass of moist meadows and by the wayside, reflect the blue and the serenity of heaven in their pure, upturned faces. Where the white variety grows, one might think a light snowfall had powdered the grass, or a milky way of tiny floral stars had streaked a terrestrial path. Linnaeus named the flower for Doctor Houston, a young English physician, botanist, and collector, who died in South America in 1733, after an exhausting tramp about the Gulf of Mexico. Flies, beetles, and the common little meadow fritillary butterfly visit these flowers. But small bees are best adapted to it.

John Burroughs found a single bluet in blossom one January, near Washington, when the clump of earth on which it grew was frozen solid. A pot of roots gathered in autumn and placed in a sunny window has sent up a little colony of star-like flowers throughout a winter.