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.
Villous ; stem erect, about three-flowered ; leaves mostly radical, interruptedly pinnate, of numerous cuneate, incisely dentate, subequal leaflets; bractlets linear, longer than the sepals ; styles plumose, very long in fruit; stems scarcely a foot high, with a pair of opposite laciniate leaves near the middle, and several bracts at the base of the long, slender peduncles. (Wood's Class-Book of Botany. See also Gray's Manual; Torrey and Gray's Flora of the United States; Watson's Botany of Clarence King's Expedition ; and the Botany of the California Geological Survey.)
BY old English botanists the plants we now know as Geum were called "Avens." An old author, writing before the time of Linnaeus, says, "The Avens, for all that we can learn, was unknown to the Greeks, and therefore we can furnish you with no Greek name for it, but it is called in Latin Caryophyllata, from the roots smelling like cloves. It is, however, supposed to be the Geum referred to by Pliny, the Roman writer, in his History." The name Geum, however, is from the Greek geuo, and signifies " a good taste," referring to the taste of the roots, as alluded to by the writer aforesaid. All the members of this family have more or less of this aromatic character, and some of the species are used as tea where mild tonics are useful. Our pretty species is found only in the extreme northeast of the Atlantic United States, but takes a more southerly range as it goes westward. It is found in Colorado, in the Rocky Mountains, in the mountains of Utah, in the Sierra Nevada, and most of the high regions of the Pacific Coast. It was first found by the American botanist Pursh, who named it G. triflorum, from its almost always having but three flowers on a stem, as shown in our drawing. But Willdenow divided the genus, and made part into Sieversia, in honor of M. Sicvers, a Russian botanist, and into this division our plant was placed. The Geums of Willdenow had hooked and naked permanent styles to the seeds, while the Sieversias have feathery, down-like styles, similar to Clematis. Modern botanists, however, rank them all as Geum.
As will be seen by our plate, the subject of this chapter belonsrs to the Sicversia section. In old works it is known as S. triflora. Its feathery awns afford an interesting study. In the other section of Geum, the style is pointed, and, when the ovules are fertilized, falls away. In this section, the styles have not this articulation; and thus, after fertilization, they continue to grow, and eventually become the pretty, feathery heads we find them. The laws which regulate these differences are still obscure, and the subject offers an inviting field of study to those who love to pry into the mysteries of plant-life. We may note that, in a general way, the law which decides these peculiarities generally influences, in some manner more or less similar, all related parts. For instance, in the section of Geum with pointed styles, we find, as the seeds or carpels grow, the remains become curved, and give a hooked character to the seeds; and in these cases the sepals or calyx leaves are inclined to recurve or become reflexed also. In our plant, the awns grow erect, there is no recurving tendency, and the sepals and petals follow the same course. This is, perhaps, to be expected as the result of morphological law. If, as we must believe, the calyx, corolla, stamens, and pistils are but the leaves of the plant successively changed into these organs, the unity of the law, as affecting behavior, may be at once suspected. Even when appearances are against this proposition, we may often find that, though seemingly divergent, they are essentially the same.
The chief beauty of the "Three-flowered Avens" is in the rosy red parts of the inflorescence, which gradually deepens up from the green-feathered foliage. The long, slender, involucral bracts and the colored sepals constitute all we can popularly call a flower. The pale pink-white petals show just beyond the calyx, but, so far as the writer has ever been able to note, do not expand sufficiently to be more visible. Unless examined closely, the petals would be rarely seen. The flowers are at first nodding, but at length become erect.
We cannot but think, however, that true taste will see in the foliage very much to admire. The finely cut leaf is suggestive of the much-admired fern, and indeed, in this respect, it is superior to many of that family, but it wants the delicacy of texture which, as much as elegance of form, gives the fern so much beauty; still its rough and heavy character is in harmony with its position as a flowering plant. It is doubtful if the fern, as a rule, would look as well as it does if it had blossoms like other plants upon it. The leaf of the "Three-flowered Avens" is elegant, but it is the elegance of the cultured gentleman, and not of a "lady fair." To those engaged in ornamental designs the leaf affords a good study. Where the idea of combined strength and delicacy is required it would be very appropriate. Neatly pressed, dried, and arranged in a rosette, the leaves make a pretty ornament in leaf albums.
The "Three-flowered Avens" seems to grow very well in gardens, where it forms a neat little stalky bunch of about six inches high. The flower stems do not extend much beyond the leaves, and the blossoms open about the end of May.
We are indebted to Professor Sargent, of Harvard, for the specimen from which our plate was made.
1. The whole plant.
2. Mature head, with awns.