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.
Surely a foreword of explanation is called for from one who has the temerity to offer a surfeited public still another book on wild flowers. Inasmuch as science has proved that almost every blossom in the world is everything it is because of its necessity to attract insect friends or to repel its foes-its form, mechanism, color, markings, odor, time of opening and closing, and its season of blooming being the result of natural selection by that special insect upon which each depends more or less absolutely for help in perpetuating its species - it seems fully time that the vitally important and interesting relationship existing between our common wild flowers and their winged benefactors should be presented in a popular book.
Is it enough to know merely the name of the flower you meet in the meadow? The blossom has an inner meaning, hopes and fears that inspire its brief existence, a scheme of salvation for its species in the struggle for survival that it has been slowly perfecting with some insect's help through the ages. It is not a passive thing to be admired by human eyes, nor does it waste its sweetness on the desert air. It is a sentient being, impelled to act intelligently through the same strong desires that animate us, and endowed with certain powers differing only in degree, but not in kind, from those of the animal creation. Desire ever creates form.
Do you doubt it? Then study the mechanism of one of our common orchids or milkweeds that are adjusted with such marvellous delicacy to the length of a bee's tongue or of a butterfly's leg; learn why so many flowers have sticky calices or protective hairs; why the skunk cabbage, purple trillium, and carrion flower emit a fetid odor while other flowers, especially the white or pale yellow night bloomers, charm with their delicious breath; see if you cannot discover why the immigrant daisy already whitens our fields with descendants as numerous as the sands of the seashore, whereas you may tramp a whole day without finding a single native ladies' slipper. What of the sundew that not only catches insects, but secretes gastric juice to digest them? What of the bladderwort, in whose inflated traps tiny crustaceans are imprisoned, or the pitcher-plant, that makes soup of its guests? Why are gnats and flies seen about certain flowers, bees, butterflies, moths, or humming birds about others, each visitor choosing the restaurant most to his liking? With what infinite pains the wants of each guest are catered to! How relentlessly are pilferers punished! The endless devices of the more ambitious flowers to save their species from degeneracy by close inbreeding through fertilization with their own pollen, alone prove the operation of Mind through them. How plants travel, how they send seeds abroad in the world to found new colonies, might be studied with profit by Anglo-Saxon expansionists. Do vice and virtue exist side by side in the vegetable world also? Yes, and every sinner is branded as surely as was Cain. The dodder, Indian pipe, broom-rape, and beech-drops wear the floral equivalent of the striped suit and the shaved head. Although claiming most respectable and exalted kinsfolk, they are degenerates not far above the fungi. In short, this is a universe that we live in; and all that share the One Life are one in essence, for natural law is spiritual law. "Through Nature to God," flowers show a way to the scientist, lacking faith.
Although it has been stated by evolutionists for many years that in order to know the flowers, their insect relationships must first be understood, it is believed that "Nature's Garden " is the first American work to explain them in any considerable number of species. Dr. Asa Gray, William Hamilton Gibson, Clarence Moores Weed, and Miss Maud Going in their delightful books or lectures have shown the interdependence of a score or more of different blossoms and their insect visitors. Hidden away in the proceedings of scientific societies' technical papers are the invaluable observations of such men as Dr. William Trelease of Wisconsin and Professor Charles Robertson of Illinois. To the latter, especially, I am glad to acknowledge my indebtedness. Sprengel, Darwin, Muller, Delpino, and Lubbock, among others, have given the world classical volumes on European flora only, but showing a vast array of facts which the theory of adaptation to insects alone correlates and explains. That the results of their illumining researches should be so slow in enlightening the popular mind can be due only to the technical, scientific language used in setting them forth, language as foreign to the average reader as Chinese, and not to be deciphered by the average student, either, without the help of a glossary. These writings, as well as the vast array of popular books - too many for individual mention - have been freely consulted after studies made afield.
To Sprengel belongs the glory of first exalting flowers above the level of mere botanical specimens. After studying the wild geranium he became convinced, as he wrote in 1787, that "the wise Author of Nature has not made even a single hair without a definite design." A hundred years before, one, Nehemias Grew, had said that it was necessary for pollen to reach the stigma of a flower in order that it might set fertile seed, and Linnaeus had to come to his rescue with conclusive evidence to convince a doubting world that he was right. Sprengel made the next step forward, but his writings lay neglected over seventy years because he advanced the then incredible and only partially true statement that a flower is fertilized by insects which carry its pollen from its anthers to its stigma. In spite of his discoveries that the hairs within the wild geranium protect its nectar from rain for the insect benefactor's benefit; that most flowers which secrete nectar have what he termed "honey guides " - spots of bright color, heavy veining, or some such pathfinder for the visitor on the petals; that sometimes the male flowers, the staminate ones, are separated from the seed-bearing or pistillate ones on distinct plants, he left it to Darwin to show that cross-fertilization by insects, the transfer of pollen from one blossom to another - not from anthers to stigma of the same flower - is the great end to which so much marvellous floral mechanism is adapted. The wind is a wasteful, uncertain pollen distributor. Insects transfer it more economically, especially the more highly organized and industrious ones. In a few instances humming birds, as well, unwittingly do the flower's bidding while they feast now here, now there. In spite of Sprengel's most patient and scientific research, that shed great light on the theory of natural selection a half century before Darwin advanced it, he never knew that flowers are nearly always sterile to pollen of another species when carried to them on the bodies of insect visitors, or that cross-pollenized blossoms defeat the self-pollinated ones in the struggle for survival. These facts Darwin proved in endless experiments.
Because bees depend absolutely upon flowers, not only for their own food but for that of future generations for whom they labor; because they are the most diligent of all visitors, and are rarely diverted from one species of flower to another while on their rounds collecting, as they must, both nectar and pollen, it follows they are the most important fertilizing agents. It is estimated that, should they perish, more than half the flowers in the world would be exterminated with them! Australian farmers imported clover from Europe, and although they had luxuriant fields of it, no seed was set for next year's planting, because they had failed to import the bumblebee. After his arrival, their loss was speedily made good.
Ages before men cultivated gardens, they had tiny helpers they knew not of. Gardeners win all the glory of producing a Lawson pink or a new chrysanthemum; but only for a few seasons do they select, hybridize, according to their own rules of taste. They take up the work where insects left it off after countless centuries of toil. Thus it is to the night-flying moth, long of tongue, keen of scent, that we are indebted for the deep, white, fragrant Easter lily, for example, and not to the florist; albeit the moth is in his turn indebted to the lily for the length of his tongue and his keen nerves: neither could have advanced without the other. What long vistas through the ages of creation does not this interdependence of flowers and insects open!
Over five hundred flowers in this book have been classified according to color, because it is believed that the novice, with no knowledge of botany whatever, can most readily identify the specimen found afield by this method, which has the added advantage of being the simple one adopted by the higher insects ages before books were written. Technicalities have been avoided in the text wherever possible, not to discourage the beginner from entering upon one of the most enjoyable and elevating branches of Nature study. The scientific names and classification follow that method adopted by the International Botanical Congress which has now superseded all others; nevertheless the titles employed by Gray, with which older botanists in this country are familiar, are also indicated where they differ from the new nomenclature.
Mr. Dugmore's very beautiful photographs in color from the living flowers, and the no less exquisite portraits from life in black and white by Mr. Troth, cannot but prove the most attractive, as they are the most useful, feature of this book.
New York, March, 1900
"Let us content ourselves no longer with being mere 'botanists ' - historians of structural facts. The flowers are not mere comely or curious vegetable creations, with colors, odors, petals, stamens and innumerable technical attributes. The wonted insight alike of scietitist, philosopher, theologian, and dreamer is now repudiated in the new revelation. Beauty is not' its own excuse for being,' nor was fragrance ever 'wasted on the desert air.' The seer has at last heard and interpreted the voice in the wilderness. The flower is no longer a simple passive victim in the busy bee's sweet pillage, but rather a conscious being, with hopes, aspirations and companionships. The insect is its counterpart. Its fragrance is but a perfumed whisper of welcome, its color is as the wooing blush and rosy lip, its portals are decked for his coming, and its sweet hospitalities humored to his tarrying; and as it speeds its parting affinity, rests content that its life's consummation has been fulfilled." - William Hamilton Gibson.
"I often think, when working over my plants, of what Linnaeus once said of the unfolding of a blossom: ' I saw God in His glory passing near me, and bowed my head in worship." The scientific aspect of the same thought has been put into words by Tennyson: ' Flower in the crannied wall I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand Little flower, - but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.'
No deeper thought was ever uttered by poet. For in this 7vorld of plants, which, with its magician, chlorophyll, conjuring with stinbeams, is ceaselessly at work bringing life out of death, - in this quiet vegetable world we may find the elementary principles of all life in almost visible operation." - John Fiske in "Through Nature to God."