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 - Small, white or rarely bluish, crowded in dense spikelike racemes 3 to 9 in. long, usually several spikes at top of stem or from upper axils. Calyx 4-parted, very small; corolla tubular,4-lobed; 2 stamens protruding; 1 pistil. Stem: Straight, erect, usually unbranched, 2 to 7 ft. tall. Leaves: Whorled, from 3 to 9 in a cluster, lance-shaped or oblong, and long-tapering, sharply saw-edged.
Flowering Season - June - September.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Alabama, west to Nebraska.
Slender, erect white wands make conspicuous advertisements in shady retreats at midsummer, when insect life is at its height and floral competition for insect favors at its fiercest. Next of kin to the tiny blue speedwell, these minute, pallid blossoms could have little hope of winning wooers were they not living examples of the adage, " In union there is strength." Great numbers crowded together on a single spike, and several spikes in a cluster that towers above the woodland undergrowth, cannot well be overlooked by the dullest insects, especially as nectar rewards the search of those having midlength or long tongues. Simply by crawling over the spikes, of which the terminal one usually matures first, they fertilize the little flowers. The pollen thrust far out of each tube in the early stage of bloom, has usually all been brushed off on the under side of bees, wasps, butterflies, flies, and beetles before the stigma matures; nevertheless, when it becomes susceptible, the anthers spread apart to keep out of its way lest any left-over pollen should touch it.
"The leaves of the herbage at our feet," says Ruskin, "take all kinds of strange shapes, as if to invite us to examine them. Star-shaped, heart-shaped, spear-shaped, arrow-shaped, fretted, fringed, cleft, furrowed, serrated, in whorles, in tufts, in wreaths, in spires, endlessly expressive, deceptive, fantastic, never the same from footstalks to blossom, they seem perpetually to tempt our watchfulness, and take delight in outstripping our wonder." Doubtless light is the factor with the greatest effect in determining the position of the leaves on the stem, if not their shape. After plenty of light has been secured, any aid they may render the flowers in increasing their attractiveness is gladly rendered. Who shall deny that the brilliant foliage of the sumacs, the dogwood, and the pokeweed in autumn does not greatly help them in attracting the attention of migrating birds to their fruit, whose seeds they wish distributed? Or that the clustered leaves of the dwarf cornel and Culver's-root, among others, do not set off to great advantage their white flowers which, when seen by an insect flying overhead, are made doubly conspicuous by the leafy background formed by the whorl?