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 - Bright purplish pink, deep magenta, or pale to whitish, about 1 in. long and broad, growing along the rigid, spreading branches. Calyx 5-toothed; corolla funnel-form, the tube much inflated above and spreading into 5 unequal, rounded lobes, spotted within, or sometimes downy; 4 stamens in pairs, the filaments hairy; 1 pistil. Stem: 1 to 2 1/2 ft. high, slender, branches erector spreading. Leaves: Opposite, very narrow, 1 to 1 1/2 in. long.
Flowering Season - August - October.
Distribution - Northern United States to Florida, chiefly along Atlantic coast.
Low-lying meadows gay with gerardias were never seen by that quaint old botanist and surgeon, John Gerarde, author of the famous "Herball or General Historie of Plants," a folio of nearly fourteen hundred pages, published in London toward the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign. He died without knowing how much he was to be honored by Linnaeus in giving his name to this charming American genus.
Large patches of the lavender-pink gerardia, peeping above the grass, make the wayfarer pause to feast his eyes, while the practical bee, meanwhile, takes a more substantial meal within the spreading funnels. It is his practice to hang upside down while sucking, using the hairs on the filaments as footholds. Naturally he receives the pollen on his underside - just where it will be rubbed off against the stigma impeding his entrance to the next funnel visited. Any of the very dry pollen that may have fallen on the hairy filaments drops upon him.
"And 'tis my faith that every flower Enjoys the air it breathes," chanted Wordsworth. It is a special pity to gather the gerardias, which, as they grow, seem to enjoy life to the full, and when picked, to be so miserable they turn black as they dry. Like their relatives the foxgloves, they are difficult to transplant, because it is said they are more or less parasitic, fastening their roots on those of other plants. When robbery becomes flagrant, Nature brands sinners in the vegetable kingdom by taking away their color, and perhaps their leaves, as in the case of the broom-rape and Indian pipe; but the fair faces of the gerardias and foxgloves give no hint of the petty thefts committed under cover of darkness in the soil below.
The Small-flowered Gerardia (G. paupercula), so like the preceding species it was once thought to be a mere variety, ranges westward as far as Wisconsin, especially about the Great Lakes. But it is a lower plant, with more erect branches, smaller flowers, quite woolly within, and with a decided preference for bogs as well as low meadows.
In salt marshes along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, from Maine to Louisiana, the Sea-side Gerardia (G. maritima) flowers in midsummer, or a few weeks ahead of the autumnal, upland species. The plant, which rarely exceeds a foot in height, is sometimes only four inches above ground; and although at the North the paler magenta blossoms are only about half the length of the purple gerardias, in the South they are sometimes quite as long.
In dry woods and thickets, on banks and hills from Quebec to Georgia, and westward to the Mississippi we find the Slender Gerardia (G. tenuifolia), its pale magenta, spotted, compressed corolla about half an inch long; its very slender, low stem set with exceedingly narrow leaves'.