This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Glabrous; stems erect, slender, sparingly branched from the base, three to five inches high; leaves oblong-spatulate, one quarter to one third of an inch long; peduncle filiform, erect; corolla with tube much longer than its lobes, or than those of the calyx; flowers light blue, pale lilac, or nearly white, with a yellowih eye. (Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. See also Wood's Class-Book of Botany.)
O plant is better known than this one in the districts where it grows wild, as it is among the first to bloom in spring, and attracts every one's attention. It was included among the specimens collected in Virginia by Clayton in the last century. The dried specimens which he sent to Gronovius were for the most part described by this celebrated Dutch naturalist, and it was he who named our plant in. honor of Dr. William Houston (or Houstoun, as Aiton writes it), an English physician who botanized extensively in Central America, and sent a large number of plants to the Physic Garden at Chelsea, then under the charge of the well-known Miller. Houston was also a contributor to the "Philosophical Transactions," and seems generally to have been a very useful man among the botanists of his time. He died young in 1733; but his friends brought his botanical labors to the notice of Lin-nams, who in his earlier works acknowledges his indebtedness to them. Linnaeus also adopted the name Houstonia from Gronovius, and this will explain why in some works the name is credited to the latter, and in others to the former. It is not customary to go back beyond the works of Linnaeus in tracing such records of botanical appellations.
The propriety of the adjective caerulea (or coerulea), which means blue, has been questioned by some botanists. Thus an English author of eminence says: "Why coerulea, we cannot tell, for we have never seen any blue about it." This, however, seems rather a strong statement in the face of the combined authority of many other botanists. Prof. Gray says of the little flowers of our species that they are "light blue, pale lilac, or nearly white, with a yellowish eye"; Prof. Wood describes them simply as "pale blue, yellowish at the centre"; and Dr. Chapman, who describes the plant under the name of Oldcnlandia coerulea, speaks of them as having the "corolla blue or white, yellow in the throat." It will be seen that blue is given as the leading color by all these authorities; and it may, therefore, be said, perhaps, that the Houstonia has as much right to be called blue as many another flower.
It is remarkable that so common and so pretty a plant should have remained for so long a time without a generally accepted English name; and yet this was the case, as we learn from Nuttall, who wrote in 1827: "I know no common, prevalent name for our beautiful Houstonia ccerulea" About 1830, botanists speak of it as the " Venus' Pride "; and this name still exists, to some extent, in the vicinity of Washington, D. C. In many parts of the country it is termed " Bluets "; but even if we do not object to the association with blue, we might ask, in imitation of the English writer above quoted, "Why Bluets?" for the word certainly seems to be altogether meaningless. "Innocence " is also quite a common name, and in some places, according to Darlington and Wood, "Dwarf Pink." Near Philadelphia, the universal name is "Ouaker Bonnet," and elsewhere " American Daisy" has also been used. It is rare that we have such an abundance of names to choose from, and one is almost tempted to say that the people, in trying to atone for the long neglect of this modest, yet beautiful little flower, ran to the other extreme of over-naming it. That the first name in the list, Venus' Pride, did not become popular, is hardly to be wondered at; for according to all accounts, Venus was rather a dashing young lady, with a high opinion of her own charms, and such a character is totally at variance with this "wee, modest, crimson-tip'd flower," as our Innocence might be called in imitation of Burns, who in these words characterizes the English daisy. Those poets who have taken this little flower as the emblem of contentment and happiness under poor surroundings have perceived a truth more clearly than is often the case. No flower that we know of so well expresses the virtue of great merits, combined with modesty of bearing, as this. It might well say, with Pope, " Honor and shame from no conditions rise; Act well your part, there all the honor lies."
But leaving sentiment aside, we find in our plant a great deal to interest those even who care chiefly for material things. Dr. Gray has pointed out that the "flowers are dimorphous in some individuals, with the anthers borne up on the tube of the corolla and projecting from its throat, while the style is short, and the stigma, therefore, included; in the other sort, the anthers are low down in the corolla and the style long, the stigmas, therefore, protruding." Dr. Gray does not notice the additional fact of the dimorphic tubes of the corolla. In the one form, in which the pistil is wholly included, the thick portion of the tube is very short, and the anthers are set on the ledge at the point where the tube narrows (see Fig. 2), while, in the case where the stigma is exserted, the narrow portion of the tube is the shortest (Fig. 3). There is no lengthening of the stamens in either case, but they are simply borne up or down, according to the position of the ledge on which they are placed. In Mr. Darwin's interesting: book on "Forms of Flowers," this dimor-phism is referred to in connection with some experiments ol Prof. J. T. Rothrock on cultivated plants; and Mr. Darwin shows that in the long-styled form the pistil is stronger than in the short-styled one.
There are some facts connected with the distribution of our little Bluet which are also very interesting to the student. While in some districts the plant seems to exist in great profusion, it is sometimes totally absent in contiguous districts in which the circumstances may seem quite as favorable as elsewhere. Willis, in his "Catalogue of the Flora of New Jersey," gives only one locality for it in that State, namely, near Camden; while, on the other side of the Delaware River, it seems everywhere abundant. A correspondent of the "Bulletin of the Tor-rey Botanical Club," however, says it is also abundant in New Jersey, along the Passaic River, near Newark. The same magazine notices that in the State of New York it may be abundant in some counties, and wanting in others near by. The causes of unequal distribution are worth investigating. With the facts we have given of its irregular distribution, it is not quite clear what its general geographical range may be. Prof. Wood gives it as "found in most grounds, fields, and roadsides, Canada and the United States"; and Dr. Chapman says, "Moist banks, Florida to Mississippi and northward." There is no record, however, of its being found in Michigan, and it is quite likely to be rare in some other States included in the general scope named by the authors above quoted.
1. A complete plant, with barren shoots, half-mature seed-vessel, and flowers.
2. Half section of a narrow-tubed corolla, showing the stamens near the mouth.
3. Half section of a thick-tubed flower, with the stamens low down from the mouth.