The present Work forms one of a projected series of Illustrated Volumes on British Natural History. It has not been prepared in consequence either of a lack of books on the same subject or of any deficiency in those which are accessible, but simply to bear its part towards the completion of a naturalist's library upon a plan as nearly as practicable uniform with Mr. Berkeley's 'Fungology' with which the series commenced.
The book thus originated has been written with the aim of making it effective in training up students for the more advanced and technical Floras of Babington, Bentham, and Hooker. For this purpose, dissections of the parts of the flowers have been introduced among the figures; and the illustrated plants, which furnish a tolerably complete series as regards important features of structure, have for the same reason been rather fully described. By these means it is hoped that an insight into the structure and classification of plants will be acquired by those who may honour the book by making it their 'Companion;' and this insight, if attained, will assuredly enable them to use profitably the more technical volumes to which allusion has been made. That of Mr. Bentham has been herein most generally followed. Though it has been sought to use as few technical terms as possible, they have not been entirely avoided: that indeed being all but impracticable, without largely increasing its bulk, in a book devoted to matters of science, even when presented in a popularized form. Where, however, such terms have been used, the attempt has been made to soften them down and make them self-explanatory as much as possible. Beyond this, a Glossary has been provided to elucidate the rest.
We may here briefly point out how the book is intended to be used. First it will be evident, on scanning a few of its pages, pp. 22 to 42 for example, that the bouquet form of gathering wild flowers, in which, judging from one's correspondence, lady-botanists are most apt to indulge, is not the proper botanical form; that is to say, little sprigs of flowers, consisting mainly of flowers, and without leaves and fruits, are not the materials from which a proper knowledge of the plants or of their classification is to be learned. It will be seen on glancing over these pages, that not only are flowers with their stamens and their pistils required for examination, but there are carpels with their seeds to be sometimes looked into, and there are leaves with their ribs and veins to be closely scrutinized - these latter, indeed, being almost the first which the uninitiated botanist must inquire about. It is clear, therefore, that complete examples should be gathered, completeness being determined thus: all small plants should be entire, root and branch; while of larger ones portions as ample as may be manageable (if for an herbarium, nearly as long as the paper used, or such as can while fresh be readily folded to the length of the paper) must be selected, showing all the parts, - roots if conveniently obtainable; perfect leaves, both root-leaves and stem-leaves, if they differ at all, as they often do; and flowers including buds and old flowers with advanced fruits. Sometimes perfect full-grown fruits or seed-vessels are indispensable, and, as they are always desirable, they should always if possible be gathered. Furnished with such materials as these, and supposing ourselves occupied with them at any period of the pleasant springtide, let us look at p. 22 and p. 27, wherein the two great divisions of plants are indicated. These, it will be seen, consist of plants with parallel-veined leaves and those with net-veined leaves. It is not generally difficult to decide between these, for we may leave out of sight the very few exceptions to the general rule that occur. Supposing our plant is a Wallflower, it will be net-veined, and therefore exogenous. Now among the exogenous plants it will be seen that there are some polypetalous (the Thalamiflores and Caly-ciflores), some monopetalous (the Monopetals), and some apetalous or without petals (the Monochlamyds). It will at a glance be ascertained that this flower has petals as well as calyx, and more than one petal, so that it must be polypetalous. Well then, to which of the polypetalous groups does it belong - that with petals distinct and stamens hypogynous, or that with petals distinct and stamens perigynous or epigynous? It proves, when pulled to pieces, first gently tearing away the calyx and then the petals, to have hypogynous stamens: so that it is one of the Thalamiflores. Then comes the question, are the carpels distinct or combined into an apocarpous ovary? They are combined. After that the question, whether the placentas are parietal or axile? They are parietal. Still again another inquiry, whether the stamens are five or six in number? They are six, and tetradynamous. We should thus arrive at the fact that it belonged to group 3, or the Cruciferous plants. Then turning to group 3 in p. 28, two decisions would lead us to fix on the eighth genus, Cheiranthus. Passing on to the eighth genus in p. 44, it would at last be found that the plant was Cheiranthus Cheiri. By a similar use of the tabulated information the names of the other plants would be ascertained.
The book does not contain all our British plants, but only those which have been deemed the most likely to be met with either in home-walks or during more extended health-seeking or pleasure-seeking trips. These have been divided under the four seasons, an arrangement which it has been thought would simplify the task of searching for the name of a flower by excluding those which bloom during other seasons. Generally this would be the case, but instances may here and there occur in which the flowering season does not very definitely fall within these limits; and there are some plants which bloom continuously or succession ally. If a plant, therefore, should not be readily identified amongst those set down for the season in which it may be found in bloom, those of the preceding or succeeding seasons should also be scrutinized.
It is perhaps hardly necessary to add, that in using the Summaries, care should be taken to compare correctly with their correlatives the various terms and signs employed for subdividing the groups. Thus in p. 22, Exogenous plants are to be compared only with Endogenous plants (the words will be found printed in the same type) in p. 27; Thalami-flores, Calyciflores, Monopetals, and Monochlamyds, (also printed in correspondent type,) must be compared with each other; and the * in p. 23 compared with ** in p. 24: the signs which fall between * and ** in like manner being compared among themselves. The different signs are used for the purpose of classification in the consecutive order which is usual in printed books, namely, *, †, ‡, §, ||, a, 1, etc.
We should strongly recommend those who may take this book as a guide in acquiring a knowledge of our Wild Flowers, to gather as many of those which are figured as they may be able to collect, and to compare them closely both with the figures and with the lengthened descriptions, which latter will be found under the head "Illustrations," at pp. 1, 78, 348, and 386. They should especially separate the parts of the flowers, so as to get a clear conception of the terms by which the several parts are known, as well as those by which their characteristic features, taken either separately or collectively, are indicated. It may be well further to point out, that it would be by no means labour lost to commit to memory the more important of the technical terms found in the Glossary. The advantage of knowing their meaning would at once be discovered on making real use of the book.
Chelsea, May, 1862.