Stellaria, from stella, a star, in allusion to the star-shaped flowers. Alsine, Greek for grove, the habitat of some species.
Annual. Naturalized from Europe. Everywhere in damp ground. April-December.
Weak, branching, procumbent or ascending.
Ovate or oval, small, opposite on the stem, sessile or petioled, acute, rarely obtuse.
Small, white, solitary or slightly clustered.
Sepals five, oblong, longer than the petals.
Petals five, two-cleft, shorter than the sepals.
Two to ten, inserted around the pistil.
Ovary one-celled; styles three.
Ovoid capsule, several-seeded.
March 21, 1853.
The Stellaria media is fairly in bloom in Mr. C.'s garden. This, then, is our earliest flower, though it has been introduced. It may blossom under favorable circumstances in warmer weather than usual any time in the winter. It has been so much opened that you could easily count its petals any month the past winter and plainly blossoms with the first pleasant weather that brings the robins. - Thoreau.
The Chickweed is our one plant hardy enough to live and bloom throughout a northern winter. It probably could not do this in New England, possibly not in New York, but on the southern shore of Lake Eric during those winters that not infrequently occur, when no ice is gathered from the lake, it grows and blooms all winter long in protected places.
Because of this hardiness its distribution is world-wide. A very striking story to illustrate this is told by Sir Joseph Hooker, who says: "Upon one occasion, landing on a small uninhabited island, nearly at the antipodes, the first evidence I met with of its having been previously visited by man was the English Chickweed, and this I traced to a mound that marked the grave of a British sailor, which was covered with the plant, doubtless the offspring of seed that had adhered to the spade with which the grave had been dug."
The blossom is very small and under a glass extremely pretty. The five sepals form a very perfect star; the petals are curiously two-cleft, making five look like ten, these are rounded at the apex and shorter than the sepals. The stamens are a variable number; when things are going well with the plant there are sure to be five and maybe more, but in late autumn or early winter the pinched little blossom may afford only two.
The Chickweed is an example of that meekness that inherits the earth. It does what it can, it lives where it must. A blossom usually terminates the stem and from the axils of the newest leaves spring branches with a flower at the end of each branch. It produces abundant seed in winter and this proves it capable of self-fertilization. One of the best things about the plant is that canary-birds love it.
Common Chickweed. Stellaria media
When September comes the Chickweed often forms a soft green carpet that mitigates if it does not hide the desolation of the kitchen-garden, and transforms the unsightly home of the early potato and the sweet corn by a covering of tender green, which, upon examination, is seen to be dotted with minute, starry white blossoms.