LET us listen to the silent voices of the flowers of the wayside, and interpret the mission of the "wildings of Nature" which dwell in the woodland glades, spangle the dewy meads, adorn the moorland with perennial beauty, and smile with gladness by the streamlets and the rivers. Lessons of deep significance may be learned from these "stars of earth."
"From the first bud, whose verdant head,
The winter's lingering tempest braves, To those who, 'mid the foliage dead,
Shrink latest to their annual graves, Are all for use - for health or pleasure given; All speak in various ways the bounteous hand of Heaven."
Who has not read the charming little story of Pic-ciola? - how the little flower sent its tiny and tender leaflets to kiss the sun between the harsh prison stones at Fenestrella, to carry a message of truth, of holiness, and of beauty to a maddened and despairing soul; how it spoke, in "language quaint and olden," of mercy and of peace. The clouds of infidelity rolled away before the little messenger of an all-seeing Providence, - the lesson of the prison flower brought conviction to the heart of one who had denied his Maker. The flowers of the field are the very emblems of trusting and confiding love. You may crush them, and they only reproach you with a sweeter odour. They have ever a smile to welcome you. They speak of gladness to the pure heart, and of purity and trusting faith to the sorrowing and sin-stricken soul. They smilingly and equally greet the peasant and the peer; they know no distinctions of persons. They bloom alike for the murky court as for the parterre of unlimited luxury. To every true heart they become hallowed messengers from heaven.
How many a town-dweller has blessed the flowers that blossom so freely in God's garden when some holiday has called him to the moor! How many a poor and weary mechanic has wandered to the green hills, to breathe the pure air and renew his communion with the gay flowers which gladdened his youth, and which even now kindle holy sympathies in his breast, and teach him that he has a spirit that can soar nearer to heaven, and purify the dross of his life! The field flowers seem to bloom for him. They are free to him. They speak to him, perhaps, of a sunny childhood and of hopeful manhood. They are entwined round our lives. Their varied hues, forms, and loveliness speak to the heart. "We would cherish them, and learn from each grassy stem the story of its life, and from each sunny flower gather the honey of its history. Each drooping bud and each sturdy tree is full of interest. They breathe, live, and speak. Let them not speak in vain. Let us be their humble interpreters as we journey by the quiet hedgerows, over the wild moor, or through the silent glades of the chequered wood, and by the mossy bank of brook and river. It will be found that there is not a plant but will reveal some peculiar beauty, some exquisite adaptation, to reward the attentive observer. We are told, "T is wise to let the touch of Nature thrill Through the full heart; 't is wise to take your fill Of all she brings, and gently to give way To what within your soul she seems to say.*'
As we pass along these pleasant paths we shall find a vast store of knowledge to which the old wild flowers of Britain are the key - the hidden spring which discloses much that would otherwise lie hidden. We shall find each locality has its special favourites. As we walk along the shady lane we shall find the character and varieties of the flowers sometimes suddenly change. Fresh species show themselves, old ones disappear, as the soil becomes sandy, rocky, or clayey, as it become dry or marshy. The mere cutting of a trench, or the levelling of a ditch, will bring to light an entirely different flora. I once saw thousands of the most beautiful foxgloves (digitalis purpurea) growing by the side of a cutting in a marsh, where no foxgloves had grown in the memory of man. The common coltsfoot starts up in railway cuttings, or on coal-pit banks, side by side with two or three varieties of the equisetum, or mare's-tail grass, known, but not welcomed, through the Midlands as "joint grass." It would appear as if the germs of life had lain dormant for ages, waiting the genial influence of sun and shower to bring them into life. Every geological strata, each change of landscape, has its special flowers; and some of the most beautiful and lovely linger round the ruins of our old abbeys, where they were once loved and cultured by the old monks, who were not only the first "cullers of simples," but were our first gardeners and admirers of floral beauty. The sheltered dingle and the bleak hill-side are equally frequented by special flowers, which are found nowhere else. On the other hand, some plants, like the common groundsel and plantain, are nearly universal, and follow man in all his wanderings. I would clear the pathway which leads to the intimate knowledge of these wild children of Nature from thorny technicalities, and as the student's guide and friend point out some of their hidden beauties. As we journey along, the way will be found increasingly interesting. "We shall unveil many a mystery, and bring to light not only much of the old life of the people who named and loved these flowers to whom their uses were indeed "household words." but we shall find the plant itself, from the moment it thrusts forth its tender rootlet through the seed-shell into the earth, until it casts its matured seed forth again, to go wherever "the wind listeth," full of wonder and delight.
"Such delight I found To note in shrub and tree, in stone and flower,
That intermixture of delicious hues Along so vast a surface, ail at once, In one impression, by connecting force Of their own beauty imaged in the heart."
Nor are the uses of these plants confined to aesthetic teaching; they have a material value. The humblest amongst them plays its part not only in the economy of the universe, but in some degree ministers more or less to the comforts or necessities of human life. The humble lichen is closer allied to the imperial purple than we dream of. In the infant days of commerce it was eagerly sought after, for it was one of the ingredients used in producing the famous purple dye of Tyre and Sidon. Ptolemy tells us of voyages to the Irish coast to procure these humble wild plants, and it is curious to note that at present the coast of Clare is remarkable not only for its lichens, but for the fact that they grow on a species of alum shale, which is likely to add to their value for dyeing purposes. The Lichen (Roccella) is still gathered, as it was in the days of Pliny, for the purpose of dyeing woollen cloths red or purple. The R. tinctoria afforded the first dye for blue British broadcloths, once so universally used; and to this humble plant was due the purple tinge when viewed against the light. R. fuci-formis is, however, but little inferior to its better-known brother. These form the orchil or archil dye of commerce. The Crab's-eye Lichen (Lecanora pal-lescens), common in the north of England, and conspicuous by its dirty white patches on rocky surfaces, is yet used for the same purpose in France. Another, but a brownish-hued branch of the family, L. tartarea, is the Cudbear of commerce, and is a considerable item of rural industry in Scotland. Many of the mosses are gathered for economic purposes. The fine Club Moss is used as a mordant in rural dyeing, whilst the common club moss is of value to the pyrotechnist.