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.
Calyx bractless, spreading, five-parted, with the lobes leaf-like, incisely serrate and persistent. Corolla none. Stamens indefinite, inserted in several rows on the thin disk which lines the bottom of the calyx; filaments filiform. Ovaries two to four, sessile: style nearly terminal, filiform. Ovule single, pendulous, anatropous. Achenia drupaceous. Cotyledons oval, flat. Embryo included in thin, fleshy albumen. Radicle superior, inflexed - accumbent. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States.)
THE pretty plant we now illustrate has more points of in-terest than is usual with our wild flowers. Up to 1857 it was wholly unknown, and it has not been found in any other place than where it was originally discovered. It was detected in the year mentioned, by the Rev. Dr. R. D. Nevius, a missionary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and an ardent and acute botanical observer. Noting that it was different from any plant described in botanical works, he sent specimens to Dr. Asa Gray, who found that it was not only new, but represented an unknown genus, which he named Neviusia, after the discoverer, and Alabamensis, from the State in which it is even yet only found.
In a letter to the author, written in 1877, Dr. Nevius gives some interesting facts regarding the location of the discovery. He says: "I first noticed it, I think, on the North river, an affluent of the Black Warrior, a short distance above Tuscaloosa, in Alabama, and at its mouth. It grew in a dense thicket in the first loose soil under a long cliff of rock which is exposed by the wearing away of the bank. It has a southern exposure at that place, and grows about seventy-five or one hundred feet above the level of the plain or bench below. As its habit is to make new growth in long virgaate branches from the root, like the Spiraa, the thicket when in full flower looks like a snow-wreath under the cliff. I have seen there a spray of two feet long, and have grown the same in the church-yard of Christ church, Tuscaloosa. It blooms there as early as February 27th, and on account of its early flowering and easy propagation from underground stems it is a valuable ornamental shrub. The flowers which are produced in axillary umbels have very delicate, showy stamens only. The calyx is comparatively large, and very similar to the stem leaves in outline and serration. In fair weather it vies with the best of the Spiraas, but a slight storm of rain spoils its beauty by gumming the stamens, which are perfectly white with yellow anthers, to the calyx."
Being so rare in its native State, it has not yet had time to get among the people and thus receive a popular name. One of its allies, Spiraa Reevesii, is known in gardens as the " Bridal Wreath," and when we read the graphic account Dr. Nevius gives of its early snowy whiteness among the plants, which in the language of Percival, "------love
The rude rock, and the frowning precipice, The winding valley, where it lies in green Along the bubbling riv'let,------" it would seem not inappropriate to suggest for this the popular name of "Alabama Snow-wreath," but it may be best to make but the bare suggestion here.
After all, it is a question whether it is really confined to Alabama, and to this one small spot on the earth's surface. The Southern States have not been thoroughly explored by botanists. New species are continually being discovered, and it is as possible to find new stations for species already known. It will give much zest to botanical excursions in that region to keep the possibility in mind. At any rate the plant must be scarce, and this fact excites the inquiry, which other rare plants do, whether or not they are the last living representatives of a race once abundant - for it is hardly to be supposed the species never had a wider range; nor is it probable a form so distinct from any of its geographical neighbors is a new creation.
This distinctness from others is indeed one of the features which give it so much interest. Though in Dr. Nevius' account it is compared with Spiraa, a member of the order Rosacea, Dr. Gray regards it as occupying a median place between this order and that of Saxifragacea. But, after all, there is not a very great difference between the Roses and the Saxifrages. One of the chief differences is that in the Rose family the pistils are separate from one another, while in the Saxifrages the lower portions (the ovaries) are at least united. The Roses are also characterized by a large number of stamens as compared with the Saxifrages, and they have stipules, or small leafy processes, at the base of the perfect leaf, which the Saxifrages have not.
To the general observer a striking peculiarity in the genus will be the calyx, the five leaves of which, or sepals as they are botanically called, are similar in form and character to the normal leaves on other parts of the plant. It is now so thoroughly believed that the sepals, indeed all the parts of a flower, are nothing but leaves changed in character when in a very early stage of development, that it is taught as an undoubted law in botany. If there were yet any permissible doubt of the fact such lessons as this from Neviusia would settle the question. As this is a very characteristic feature of the genus, we have given in Fig. 2 a back view of a flower, so that the calyx leaves may be clearly seen. Another curious feature is the absence of the petals - those organs which give the chief charm to so many members of the Rose family. The beautiful bright-colored petals of flowers in general have been assumed by some to have been created expressly to attract insects, and thereby insure a supposed necessary cross-fertilization. If this were an undoubted law, one might be pardoned for believing that the absence of a corolla in this plant had indirectly led to its near extinction.
As a matter of classical purity in orthography, it may be noted in regard to the naming Dr. Gray says: "His (Nevius) name is so nearly like that of the celebrated Roman poet, for whom I presume the learned Swedish mycologist has named the genus Navia, that I must needs Latinize it in an unclassical but not wholly unprecedented manner," and he further adds, "Dr. Nevius wanted it named in honor of his friend, Dr. Tourney, but Dr. Harvey had named an Algae for him."
2. Back view of a flower.