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 - Pale lilac blue, slightly fragrant, borne on sticky pedicels, in loose, spreading clusters. Calyx with 5 long, sharp teeth. Corolla of 5 flat lobes, indented like the top of a heart, and united into a slender tube; 5 unequal, straight, short stamens in corolla tube; 1 pistil with 3 stigmas. Stem: 1 to 2 ft. high, finely coated with sticky hairs above, erect or spreading, and producing leafy shoots from base. Leaves: Of flowering stem - opposite, oblong, tapering to a point; of sterile shoots - oblong or egg-shaped, not pointed, 1 to 2 in. long.
Preferred Habitat - Moist, rocky woods.
Flowering Season - April - June.
Distribution - Eastern Canada to Florida, Minnesota to Arkansas.
The merest novice can have no difficulty in naming the flower whose wild and cultivated relations abound throughout North America, the almost exclusive home of the genus, although it is to European horticulturists, as usual the first to see the possibilities in our native flowers, that we owe the gay hybrids in our gardens. Mr. Drummond, a collector from the Botanical Society of Glasgow, early in the thirties sent home the seeds of a species from Texas, which became the ancestor of the gorgeous annuals, the Drummond phloxes of commerce to-day; and although he died of fever in Cuba before the plants became generally known, not even his kinsman, the author of "Natural Law in the Spiritual World," has done more to immortalize the family name.
While the wild blue phlox is sometimes cultivated, it is the Garden Phlox (P. paniculata), common in woods and thickets from Pennsylvania to Illinois and southward, that under a gardener's care bears the large terminal clusters of purple, magenta, crimson, pink, and white flowers abundant in old-fashioned, hardy borders. From these it has escaped so freely in many sections of the North and East as to be counted among the local wild flowers. Unless the young offshoots are separated from the parent and given a nook of their own, the flower quickly reverts to the original type. European cultivators claim that the most brilliant colors are obtained by crossing annual with perennial phloxes.
Wild Sweet William (P. maculata), another perennial much sought by cultivators, loves the moisture of low woods and the neighborhood of streams in the Middle and Western States when it is free to choose its habitat; but it, too, has so freely escaped from gardens farther north into dry and dusty roadsides, that any one who has passed the ruins of Hawthorne's little red cottage at Lenox, for example, and seen the way his wife's clump of white phlox under his study window has spread to cover an acre of hillside, would suppose it to be luxuriating in its favorite locality. This variety of the species (var. Candida) lacks the purplish flecks on stem and lower leaves responsible for the specific name of the type. Pinkish purple or pink blossoms are borne in a rather narrow, elongated panicle on the typical Sweet William.
Most members of the phlox family resort to the trick of coating the upper stem and the peduncles immediately below the flowers with a sticky secretion in which crawling insects, intent on pilfering sweets, meet their death, just as birds are caught on limed twigs. Butterflies, for whom phloxes have narrowed their tubes to the exclusion of most other insects, are their benefactors; but long-tongued bees and flies often seek their nectar. Indeed, the number of strictly butterfly-flowers is surprisingly small.