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.
Gelsemium Sempervirens, Aiton.
Flowers dimorphous; calyx five-parted, persistent; corolla funnel-shaped, five-lobed, the lobes rounded, emarginate, spreading, quincuncial in the bud, the sinuses impressed; stamens five, inserted near the base of the corolla; anthers oblong-sagittate, extrorse; styles united, filiform, partly persistent; stigmas four, linear, spreading; capsule oblong, two-celled, compressed, opening septicidally to the middle, and loculicidally at the apex, each valve tipped with the persistent base of the styles; seeds several, oval, flat, winged, obliquely imbricated in two rows; stem twining, woody; leaves opposite, lanceolate or ovate, short petioled, with minute stipules, evergreen. (Partly from Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States.)
HIS is a distinctively American plant. The genus consists of only this single species, and it has no very close relations outside of the American continent. Willdenow regarded it as a species of Bignonia, or Trumpet-flower. Without going into details, however, the student would at once see it did not belong to the Bignoniaceous order by the four stigmas, as all Bignoniaceous plants have the single style, terminated by two thin stigmatic plates, which are sensitive, closing slowly when touched. The nearest allies to the Gclscmium are the Spigelia, a very pretty, hardy, herbaceous plant, but of poisonous qualities; and two less known genera, Polypremum and MitrE-ola. These form a little tribe of exclusives, all of this continent. Our plant is known in the Southern States as "Yellow Jessamine," according to Gray and Chapman, but all those whom we have heard speak of it call it "Carolina Jasmine."It is a woody twiner, with evergreen, willow-like leaves, rambling over bushes and low shrubs, and often ascending trees of considerable size.
It is one of the earliest of spring flowers. The specimen from which our drawing was made was gathered in Florida, in January, and we have seen the plant in flower everywhere in Mississippi in March. The flowers are dcliciously scented, and fill the atmosphere with fragrance for long distances around. It is singular that Catesby, who wrote a history of the Carolinas, should say that the plant was not an evergreen. Owing to this error the name of Michaux, Gelsemium nitidum, was adopted by De Candolle, but this name is now generally dropped for the one we have chosen, and we refer to it here only that readers may not suppose there are two species under these names. It may be that sometimes the plant drops its leaves. It is subject to "notions," for Nuttall says he found near Savannah a kind which was utterly scentless, a rare peculiarity in a flower that is usually so sweet. This peculiarity may, however, have some relation to its dimorphic condition, a character first pointed out by Professor Asa Gray, in Silliman's Journal, in 1873. By this is meant that some flowers have the pistils longer than the stamens, while others have them shorter. In such cases it often happens that the short-pistilled flowers do not seed, their only use seeming to be to furnish pollen for the more perfectly pistillate individuals, and varying odor may go with these varying states.
Notwithstanding its beauty as a climber, and the sweetness of its golden flowers, the Carolina Jasmine possesses qualities dangerous to the ignorant, though of great value to the intelligent medical practitioner. Dr. Peyre Porcher tells us that during the war between the North and the South, when medicines in popular use were cut off by the blockade, this plant was commonly employed as a narcotic. The expressed juice was found to produce insensibility to pain, and yet without stupor. Overdoses, however, produced unconsciousness and death. Dr. Porcher says that the plant is gradually advancing northwards, and speaks of it as having " reached Norfolk," as if on a travelling excursion. Where its starting-place was does not appear. It is very common in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, and thence up along all the seaboard States to Virginia, and De Candolle says it is found in Mexico. If, however, Mexico was its original home, it hardly reached us by what is now the "overland route," for it does not appear to be found in Texas, nor have we any record of it from any place west of the Mississippi River.
Though called "Jasmine" in the South, it has no botanical relationship to the genus Fasminum, or true Jasmines. The fragrance simulates the real Jasmine, and naturally suggested the name to the Spanish settlers. Several writers tell us that the Italians call the Jasmine "Gelsomino," and that neighboring nations corrupted this to "Gelsemine." This gives us the origin of the botanical name Gclsemmm, and even this is occasionally written Gelscminum. Fasmiuum is said to have been derived from the Arabic name of the plant, "Jasmin," which is applied to it with slight variations of form in all European countries. It is possible that it may have a relation to a Greek word of similar character meaning "healthfulness," of which the grateful perfume is eminently suggestive.
The true Jasmine - we write Jasmine in preference to Jessamine, so common with American authors - has long had a place in poetry. It is generally regarded as suggestive of amiability. This refers, no doubt, to the white and not to the yellow kinds, for the latter are of a rather obtrusive color, and have not the fragrance which true amiability throws around freely wherever it breathes. But in the white kinds this sentiment finds a fair expression, for while the rather small flowers are not obtrusive, yet no one can fail to notice them, and recognize their modest worth. It is this particular expression of the European Sweet Jasmine, no doubt, that inspired the lines of Fanny Osgood: "Thy heart is like a Jasmine bell, It yields its wealth of feeling."
Our Carolina Jasmine, however, speaks not to us in this language. There is "the perfume from the blossom's cell On every zephyr stealing " ; but the deep, grassy green leaves and rich golden flowers speak rather of a rollicking joyousness that spring has come, - a joyous-ness that finds no bashfulness in its expression, but is rather anxious that all the world should know the good floral season is close at hand. Mrs. Sara J. Hale is the only one of our American poets, that we know of, who refers especially to our native Jasmine, - if Jasmine it is to be. She seems to have it in view speaking of a character drawn by N. P. Willis, whose native grace and elegance, qualities which are certainly peculiar to the Gelsemium sempervirens in its growth and manner of flowering, she describes as follows: "The fashion of her gracefulness was not a followed rule, And her effervescent sprightliness was never learnt at school."
This plant is a remarkably easy one to cultivate, even in those parts of the world where the thermometer falls below zero, if it can only have the protection of a cool green-house in winter. It looks best trained over flat trellises of wire or wood, though it is often grown as a cylinder, or on balloons. For a basket-plant it is admirable, as it blooms in the winter season when room flowers are most highly appreciated, and a single flower is sufficient to scent a whole room. It will hardly do well in the open air farther north than its natural territory, unless with some protec tion. At the Laurel Hill Cemetery, near Philadelphia, there is a plant growing on a wall among some evergreen ivy, the leaves of which afford it sufficient protection, and through which it pushes its branchlets, with the sweet flowers, in early spring. The cuttings grow very easily, if taken off in early summer while the wood is half ripe, put in boxes of sandy soil, and kept in a partially shaded place.