A small family,of low herbs or twining vines, with but two genera and few species.
Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense) may be found flowering in rich woods during April and May, from Me. to Mich, and southwards. It has two, large, heart-shaped leaves on long petioles from the base; deep green above and lighter below, soft, wooly and handsomely veined.
The leaves are very beautiful, but it is the solitary flower that makes this plant so interesting. Small, dully colored, on a weak, short stem that barely raises it above ground and often leaves it concealed by the dead leaves that carpet the woods in early Spring. Really, the flower is quite attractive. Why should it not raise its head that it might be noticed by everybody? A careful watch will convince the observer that all flowers are so constructed and so placed that they serve the best interests of the plant. So it is with this species. It blooms early, before butterflies and moths appear; it needs no bright colors to attract insect friends, as the urn-shaped flower cup makes an excellent refuge for many small, early flies. It also provides these flies with an abundance of pollen for food; in return, they unwittingly carry some away with them on their bodies and leave it at the door, or stigma, of another blossom. The stigma of this flower matures before its anthers ripen so only pollen from another, earlier blossom will serve to quicken the seed.
Wild Ginger. Asarum canadense.
The flower is bell-shaped, with three short, sharply-pointed, spreading lobes; six stamens with short anthers and a thick style with six radiating stigmas. Another species (grandiflorum), found in Va. and N. C. has but one leaf and flowers twice as large, or two inches in length.
Pipe Vine; Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla.
Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolichia Serpentaria) is a low herbaceous vine with, a woolystem from 8 to 20 in. long, with several pointed-oblong leaves with heart-shaped bases alternating along it. The dull greenish-yellow flowers are on short peduncles from the root; the calyx tube is bent in the form of a letter S, with three obtuse, spreading lobes. It flowers in June and July in rich woods from Conn, and Mich, to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Dutchman's Pipe is chiefly a southern plant or vine, being found from Pa. and Minn, southwards. It has a woody, climbing stem that may attain lengths of from 10 to 40 feet. It is often used to decorate porches and trellises. The very large, deep green, veiny leaves that alternate along the stem are very beautiful. In the dull, greenish-yellow flowers, however, lies the chief interest of the botanist. Its stigma matures and withers away before the ripening of the pollen, thus making the plant dependent upon insects for its perpetuation.
Besides furnishing a hiding place in its tube, it secretes at the bottom a few drops of nectar as an added attraction for its winged visitors. The throat is filled with tiny hairs, all pointing inwards, so ingress is easy but egress impossible. Entering insects are held prisoners, living upon the nectar, until the stigma withers and pollen ripens; after this the hairs in the throat lose their rigidity and the pollen-dusted and well fed prisoners are allowed to escape. Their memories are poor or the pollen feast is well worth the imprisonment for they usually immediately hie to another blossom and force their way in, of course pollenizing the flower in so doing.
It almost seems as though some of these highly specialized plants were human and had reasoning power.