And then, who does not know the Violet,+ the very emblem and personification of sweetness - sweeter, as Shakspere says, than "Cytherea's breath"? This lovely plant is common on banks and under hedges, a dwarf herb, with heart-shaped leaves and polypetalous flowers, which, " kissed by the breath of heaven, seem coloured by the skies." They are of a distinct type from any of the foregoing, and have a separate calyx and corolla, the former consisting of five green sepals, the latter of five coloured usually purple or white petals, which form an irregular flower, two of the petals being placed to form the upper half, and of the remaining three which form the lower part, the lowest is extended backwards at the base, producing a kind of spur. The Violet has therefore an irregular polypetalous spurred corolla. There is also a peculiarity in the anthers, which are five in number, and are more or less closely joined in a sort of ring around the ovary, the two lowermost of the five being, like the lower petal, lengthened into a spur. These spurred polypetalous flowers serve to distinguish the Violets from all other British plants except the Balsams, which are known by having only three sepals and three petals, all coloured.
* Cheiraiithus Cheiri - Plate 1 D. † Viola odoraia - Plate 2 A.
The Sycamore* illustrates another family of the same group - the Polypetalous Exogens, namely, the Aceraceous or Maple family. This is a well-known tree, very extensively planted in this country, seeding readily and springing up from self-sown seeds so freely that it may be regarded as naturalized here, though the mountains of central Europe and western Asia have been its ancient home. This tree, which flowers early in spring, puts forth broad palmately-lobed leaves, and bears rather inconspicuous flowers in pendent clusters, which look not unlike immature bunches of small grapes. The individual flowers consist of five small green sepals, five small green petals, and about eight stamens inserted on a thickened disk around the ovary. The fruit of these plants consists of two carpels, each extended into a wing at top; they are popularly called keys, but in technical language such a fruit is called a samara.
Along with the Wood Anemone, already adverted to, may be found the dwarf and unpretentious Wood Sorrel,* a lovely little wilding, representing the family of Oxalidaceous plants. This has peculiar knotty fleshy stems, and trifoliate leaves like those of the clover. It has also polypetalous (here five-petaled) regular flowers, in which both calyx and corolla will be found, the calyx consisting of five green sepals, the corolla of five equal obovate white petals; within these are ten stamens, half of which are as long again as the others, and five separate styles surmounting the ovary. This elegant little plant is maintained by some antiquaries to be that which furnished St. Patrick with his illustration of the doctrine of the Trinity, though others contend for the Trefoil or Clover, which is now more commonly adopted as the Irish Shamrock.
* Acer Psendo-platanus - Plate 2 B.
The foregoing plants (excepting the Primrose, the Snowdrop, and the Crocus) all belong to a primary division of the Dicotyledons or Exogens, called Thalamiflores, and they have these distinguishing marks in common: (a) The petals are distinct from the calyx, and from each other: very seldom absent.
(b) The stamens are hypogynous, that is, they have their point of attachment below the ovary, which latter is the young seed-vessel.
We have next to consider one or two examples of another great subdivision of the Dicotyledons, called Calyciflores, which has these peculiarities: (a) The petals are usually distinct.
(b) The stamens are perigynous, that is, appearing to grow on one of the organs surrounding the ovary, either calyx or corolla; or epigynous, that is, apparently growing from the summit of the ovary itself.
* Oxalis Acetosella - Plate 2 C.
Of this group we find in very early spring an illustration in the well-known Red Currant* of our gardens, a member of the Grossulariaceous family, which, though a cultivated plant, is frequently found in a wild state, both in Scotland and in the north of England. This, as is well known, is a dwarfish branching shrub, bearing palraately-lobed leaves, and racemes of small greenish flowers, which latter consist of a calyx adherent to the ovary and divided into five sepals, a corolla consisting of as many small scale-like petals placed at the base of the segments of the calyx, five perigynous stamens, and an inferior ovary, which becomes a succulent berry, varying in colour.
Here also may be referred the Meadow Saxifrage,+ a common but very pretty species, representing the Saxifragaceous family, and which in early spring is found, sometimes very abundantly, in meadow and pasture land. It is a perennial herb, producing underground a number of small fleshy tubers from which its stems arise. The lower leaves are kidney-shaped and lobed, and the stem grows upright six inches to a foot in height, bearing towards the top a few large white flowers, which have a calyx adherent to the ovary to about its middle, then separating into five lobes, five perigynous petals, ten perigynous stamens, and a two-celled ovary with two distinct styles.
Another of the great divisions of the Dicotyledons, the Monopetals, or Monopetalous flowers, has been already adverted to in referring to the Primrose, but we have other illustrations to offer. The distinguishing features are: (a) The petals united, at least at the base, into a single piece.
* Ribes rubrum - Plate 2 D.
† Saxifraga granulata - Plate 3 A.
(b) This monopetalous corolla either epigynous, bearing the stamens; or altogether distinct from the stamens; or hypogynous, bearing the stamens.
Of the first of these subdivisions we have some early-flowering examples in the family of Composites, or Compound flowers. Among them is the common, well-known, golden-flowered Dandelion,* to be found everywhere, and combining in itself the characters of a gay spring flower, a troublesome weed, and a valuable remedial agent. This plant has a thick, fleshy taproot, from the crown of which spreads a tuft of oblong run-cinately pinnatifid leaves, among which spring up numerous hollow peduncles, bearing, not a large yellow flower as is the vulgar notion, but a head of numerous yellow flowers of peculiar character. It is the fact of their bearing numerous flowers in one head, and so as to seem to constitute a single flower only, that has procured for the large family to which the Dandelion belongs, the name of Composites, or Compound flowers. Let us examine one of these a little more closely. At the top of the stalk are two or three rows of crowded green scaly leaves, of which the innermost are erect, and the outer ones recurved; these constitute the involucre or guard-leaves, which in the Composite plants are always found surrounding the flower-heads, and the parts of which are called bracts or scales. The top of the stalk is expanded into a broadish flattened surface, which the involucral leaves fence round, and on this surface, which is called the receptacle, the flowers are closely packed side by side. The Dandelion belongs to a group of Composites in which the flowers are all alike - all ligulate or strap-shaped, and hence the group has been named Ligulates. Take up one of the flowers, - they are here properly called florets, or little flowers, - and let us see of what it consists. At the base is a compressed reversed ovate fruit, roughish on the upper part; then comes a little stalk, and a cylinder of long fine hairs called the pappus, from out of which at top issues the long yellow limb of the floret. By-and-by, as it gets older, the little stalk will lengthen into a long slender shaft, and the cylinder of hairs will expand like the rays of an umbrella, and in this way will float away the seeds. But the corolla: this is attached just above the point where the rays of the pappus diverge, and consists of a slender tube which some distance up is split on one side, and so forms the flat strap-shaped ligulate limb. Out of this tube emerges the two stig-matic branches, just beneath which the linear anthers are united into a sheath surrounding the upper part of the style. This cohesion of the anthers into a tube enclosing the style is one of the marks of a Composite flower.