" Bring flowers.......... They speak of hope to the fainting heart, With a voice of promise they come and part; They sleep in dust through the winter hours, They break forth in glory; bring flowers, bright flowers." Mrs. Ilemans. Illustrations.
Especially deserving of precedence amongst Spring Flowers is the Primrose,* first or primal flower of the year, which at any time after the winter solstice may be seen peeping forth from many a sheltered bank, on the look-out, as it were, for sunnier days, or else may be found snugly nestling in some sheltered copse or hedgerow, blossoming unheeded, the herald of approaching spring. Even in more rigorous seasons, when the wintry blasts are severe and prolonged, this earliest flower is found soon arousing from its winter sleep. Seldom indeed does the first month of the year pass away without the echoing cry through the dreary town, "Primroses, all a-growin', all a-blowin': buy my pretty primroses." And though it is only when spring has come at last, and in good earnest, that the thick tufts of modest blossoms show "the rathe primrose" in its fullest beauty, we do well to be thankful for the earnest which it gives us of the Flora of the new-born year. This well-known favourite flower, besides illustrating the Primulaceous family, will afford us a general botanical lesson, ere we pass on to notice other heralds of the spring. Gather one of the flowers which are snugly nestled amongst the broad and wrinkled leaves, and at the end of its slender stalk will be seen a narrow green five-pointed five-angled funnel, which is the calyx or flower-cup, the outermost of the series of parts which constitute the flower, and which in most flowers, being green, may be readily distinguished. Within this stands the corolla, the yellow attractive part of the flower. In this case, if gently pulled, it will be found to come away all in one, and hence it is called monopetalous, or consisting of one petal, the parts of which it is constituted having, as it were, cohered to form this one piece. This is the condition in which the corolla is found throughout the Monopetals, one of the larger groups in which plants are classified. Sometimes these Monopetals are very irregular in form, but in the Primrose we have an example of one which is perfectly regular. Let us see of what it consists: - first, there is a long slender tube, which is straight; then there is a broad flat expanded part or limb, and that consists of five lobes or segments of similar size and form, and spreading equally, so that we may infer that the corolla is here formed of five equal coherent parts. We have thus a corolla which is perfectly regular or symmetrical in plan. The particular form a corolla assumes has, in most cases, a particular name; that of the Primrose is called hypocrateriform, or salver-shaped, but other regular monopetalous forms will be found by-and-by, in summer, in the funnel-shaped corollas of the Convolvulus, or the bellshaped corollas of the Campanula. We will not now stay to examine the Primrose further, but pass on with the remark, that on the inside of the corolla-tube are fixed five stamens, and just visible in its mouth is the round-headed stigma on its long slender stalk, looking very much like a pin dropped into the tube. The Primrose illustrates one form under which the large Dicotyledonous group, to which we shall have to recur, is developed.
* Primula vulgaris - Plate 4 B.
At a very early period, too, comes the Snowdrop,* one of the Amaryllidaceous family, a doubtful wilding perhaps, but here and there established in meadows and pastures, in seemingly wild localities: always welcome as "the early herald of the infant year," or, as Mrs. Barbauld calls it, "the first pale blossom of the unripened year," its pendent bells rivalling in purity the snow-flakes which not unfrequently fall around them. The grassy leaves and pendulous flowers of the Snowdrop are familiar to every one; the three white outer concave segments of the latter form the sepaline divisions of the perianth, and represent the calyx, and the three inner, which are smaller and tipped with green, form the petaline divisions representing the corolla. In the inside are six stamens; while the ovary or immature seed-vessel is formed entirely beneath the other parts of the flower, that is, below the actual base of the parts though in reality uppermost as the flower hangs: hence it is called inferior.
We have in the Snowdrop an excellent illustration of another large group or class of plants - the Monocotyledons, so named because their seeds are furnished with only one instead of the two cotyledons or lobes which are found in the larger proportion of the flowering plants, hence called Dicotyledons. Take one of them for examination. There is first a bulbous stem or base to the leaves and flower-stalks: this is frequent among Monocotyledons, but not characteristic. Then the leaves are ribbed with veins all running side by side lengthwise, a peculiar feature by which the group may in all ordinary cases be recognized. Next the flowers consist of six divisions, which is a nearly certain mark of a Monocotyledon. There is no separate calyx and corolla in the Snowdrop as in the Primrose, but the two will be found blended together, all the parts having become corolla-like. When thus combined, the calyx and corolla form what is called a perianth; three of the segments, which will be found to be exterior, represent the calyx, and are hence called sepaline divisions, and three are interior, representing the petals, and are hence called petaline divisions. These features - the straight-veined leaves, and the parts of the flowers arranged in threes or multiples of three - are generally distinctive of the large and important class of Monocotyledons, also called Endogens, from the internal manner of accretion in their stems.
* Galanthus nivalis - Plate 6 B.
The Crocus,* too, is one of Spring's earliest harbingers, starting up almost as if by magic from the scarce-thawed earth, and making it resplendent with the richest colours almost before the snow has vanished from the surface. The Spring Crocuses, though blooming at so early a period, present little other difference compared with those kinds which bloom in autumn. This favourite flower is a well-known representative in gardens of the Iridaceous family, and is so far naturalized in meadows and pastures in some parts of England, as to claim admission amongst our field plants, though perhaps not a true aborigine. It has a kind of solid bulb called a corm, and produces grassy leaves. Its large funnel- or vase-shaped six-lobed flowers, expanding in the sunshine, purple in those which occur in the wild state, differ from those of the Snowdrop in being erect instead of pendent, but like the latter plant, the Crocus belongs to the great family of Monocotyledons, and to that series in which there are six coloured leaves to the perianth or flower, these being combined at the base into a long slender tube; above they are scarcely distinguishable into an outer and an inner series, each consisting of three leaves, representing the sepals and petals which were found to exist in the Primrose, where however they occur in a state of cohesion, the parts it will be recollected being united into a tubular calyx and a monopetalous corolla.