This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Light blue to white, usually striped with deep blue or purple; structure of flower similar to that of V. officinalis, but borne in long, loose racemes branching outward on stems that spring from axils of most of the leaves. Stem: Without hairs, usually branched, 6 in. to 3 ft. long, lying partly on ground and rooting from lower joints. Leaves: Oblong, lance-shaped, saw-edged, opposite, petioled, and lacking hairs; 1 to 3 in. long, 1/4 to 1 in. wide. Fruit: A nearly round, compressed, but not flat, capsule with flat seeds in 2 cells.
Preferred Habitat - In brooks, ponds, ditches, swamps.
Flowering Season - April - September.
Distribution - From Atlantic to Pacific, Alaska to California and New Mexico, Quebec to Pennsylvania.
This, the perhaps most beautiful native speedwell, whose sheets of blue along the brookside are so frequently mistaken for masses of forget-me-nots by the hasty observer, of course shows marked differences on closer investigation; its tiny blue flowers are marked with purple pathfinders, and the plant is not hairy, to mention only two. But the poets of England are responsible for most of whatever confusion stills lurks in the popular mind concerning these two flowers. Speedwell, a common mediaeval benediction from a friend, equivalent to our farewell or adieu, and forget-me-not of similar intent, have been used interchangeably by some writers in connection with parting gifts of small blue flowers. It was the germander speedwell that in literature and botanies alike was most commonly known as the forget-me-not for over two hundred years, or until only fifty years ago. When the "Mayflower" and her sister ships were launched, "Speedwell " was considered a happier name for a vessel than it proved to be.
The Water Speedwell, or Pimpernel (V. Anagallis-aqiiatica), differs from the preceding chiefly in having most of its leaves seated on the stalk, only the lower ones possessing stems, and those short ones. In autumn the increased growth of sterile shoots from runners produce almost circular leaves, often two inches broad, a certain aid to identification.
Another close relation, the Marsh or Skullcap Speedwell (V. scutellata), on the other hand, has long, very slender, acute leaves, their teeth far apart; and as these three species are the only members of their clan likely to be found in watery places within our limits, a close examination of the leaves of any water-loving plant bearing small four-lobed blue flowers, usually marked with lines of a deeper blue or purple, should enable one to correctly name the species. None of these blossoms can be carried far after being picked; they have a tantalizing habit of dropping off, leaving a bouquet of tiny green calices chiefly.
Many kinds of bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies fertilize all these little flowers, which are first staminate, then pistillate, simply by crawling over them in search of nectar.