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 - White or pink-tinted, small, round, tubular, 5-toothed at the tip; drooping from curved footstalks in few-flowered terminal umbels. Calyx deeply 5-parted; 10 bearded stamens; style like a column. Stem: A sparingly branched, dwarf shrub, 6 in. to 3 ft. tall. Leaves: Linear to lance-shape, evergreen, dark and glossy above, with a prominent white bloom underneath, the margins curled.
Preferred Habitat - Cool bogs, wet places.
Flowering Season - May - June.
Distribution - Pennsylvania and Michigan, far northward.
Only a delightfully imaginative optimist like Linnaeus could feel the enthusiasm he expended on this dwarf shrub, with its little, white, heathlike flowers, which most of us consider rather insignificant, if the truth be told. But then the blossoms he found in Lapland must have been much pinker than any seen in American swamps, since they reminded him of "a fine female complexion."
" This plant is always fixed on some little turfy hillock in the midst of the swamps," he wrote, "just as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet as the fresh water does the roots of this plant. ... As the distressed virgin cast down her blushing face through excessive affliction, so does this rosy-colored flower hang its head, growing paler and paler till it withers away." Under the old go-as-you-please method of applying scientific names, most of this shrub's relatives shared with it the name of the fair maid whom Perseus rescued from the dragons.
The beautiful, low-growing Stagger-bush (P/eri's Mariana) has its small, cylindric, five-parted, white or pink-tinted flowers clustered at intervals along one side of the upright, nearly leafless, smooth, dark-dotted branches of the preceding year. When the glossy oval leaves, black dotted beneath, are freshly put forth in early summer - for the shrub is not strictly an evergreen, however late the old leaves may cling - it is said that stupid sheep and calves, which find them irresistibly attractive, stagger about from their poisonous effect just as they do after feeding on this shrub's relative the Lambkill (p. 127). In sandy soil from southern New England to Florida, rarely far inland, one finds the stagger-bush in bloom from May to July. On the dry plains of Long Island, where it is common indeed, it appears a not unworthy relative of the Fetter-bush (Pieris floribunda), that exquisite little evergreen with quantities of small white urns drooping along its twigs, which nurserymen acquire from the mountains of our Southern States to adorn garden shrubbery at home and abroad. Mr. William Robinson, in his delightful book, "The English Flower Garden" (a book, by the way, that Rudyard Kipling reads as the Puritan read his Bible), counts this fetter-bush among the "indispensables."
Much taller than the preceding dwarfs is the Common Privet Andromeda found in swamps and low ground from New England to the Gulf and in the southwest (Xolisma ligustrina). Whoever has seen the privet almost universally grown in hedges is familiar with the general aspect of this much-branched shrub. Most farmers' boys know the Andromeda's mock May-apple, a hollow, stringy growth of insect origin, which they are not likely to confuse with the pulpy, juicy apple found on the closely related azaleas (p. 122). Abundant terminal spike-like or branched clusters of white, globular, four or five parted flowers in close array, attract quantities of bees from the end of May to earlyjuly, notwithstanding each individual flower measures barely an eighth of an inch across. We have seen the fine hair-triggers which other members of this same family, the beautiful pink laurels (p. 125), have set to be sprung by an incoming visitor. Now this Andromeda, and similarly several of its immediate kin, have a quite different, but equally effective, method of throwing pollen on its friends who come to call. When one of the little banded bees clings, as he must, to the tiny flower scarce half his size, thrusting his tongue obliquely through the globe's narrow opening to reach the nectar, suddenly a shower of pollen is inhospitably thrown upon him from within. In probing between the ring of anthers (that are pressed against the style by the S-shaped curvature of the filaments so as to retain the pollen), he needs must displace some of them and release the vitalizing dust through the large terminal pores in the anther-sacs. Is he discouraged by such rough treatment? Not at all. Off he flies to another Andromeda blossom, and leaves some of the dust with which he is powdered on the sticky stigma that impedes his entrance, before precipitating a fresh shower as he sips another reward. The straight column-like pistil, stigmatic on its tip only, allows the flower's own pollen to slide harmlessly down its sides. How exquisite are the most minute adjustments of floral mechanism! Is it possible for one to remain an agnostic after the evidences even the flowers show us of infinite wisdom and love?
Another denizen of swamps and low ground, next of kin to the trailing arbutus, is the Leather-leaf, or Dwarf Cassandra (Chamaedaphne calyculata), a modest little shrub, its stiff, slender branches plentifully set with thick oblong leaves that grow gradually smaller the higher they go, and when young are densely covered with minute scurfy scales. Sometimes before the snow has melted in April, the leafy terminal shoots are hung with multitudes of little waxy-white, cylindric, typical heath flowers only about a quarter of an inch long, each nodding from a leaf axil, and the whole forming one-sided racemes. But as the shrub ranges from Newfoundland to Georgia, and westward to Illinois, British Columbia, and Alaska, some people find it blooming even in July.
Mythological names were evidently in high favor among the botanists who labelled the genuses comprising the heath family: Phyllodoce, the sea-nymph; Cassiope, mother of Andromeda; Leucothoe; Andromeda herself; Pieris, a name sometimes applied to the Muses from their supposed abode at Pieria, Thessaly; and Cassandra, daughter of Priam, the prophetess who was shut up in a mad-house because she prophesied the ruin of Troy - these names are as familiar to the student of this group of shrubs to-day as they were to the devout Greeks in the brave days of old.