The love of flowers is one of the earliest of passions, as it is one of the most enduring. Children with the bees and butterflies delight in the opening of the spring; and a bright boy that is reared in the country follows the season by its flowers. He it is that knows when to push aside the snow and dried leaves to find the first sweet blossoms of the trailing arbutus; nor does he mistake the dell where the white violet peeps shyly out for the spreading patch of blue violets to which he returns every year. He knows the hillside where the mountain laurel and the lambkill grow, and drives away the foolish cows that would eat of their fresh, green shoots. The precious haunt of the pink orchis and the rocky crag over which droops the lovely columbine is to him an unravelled mystery. A stream of fishing he marks by the stately cardinal flower or the coy jewel-weed.
His knowledge of them all is intimate and loving - one that he has acquired by his own skill and observation, and through this close friendship with them he feels proudly that they are his very own. The swamps and the woods, the hills and the roadsides, are his especial domain.
The great poets of America have shown a profound appreciation of their incomparable wild flowers. In fact, the impersonal love of flowers is one of the characteristics of modern poetry. But this has not always been so. The Persians made use of their flowers as mouthpieces to express their own sentiments and from them the idea radiated very generally. They served the ancient Greeks mostly as tombstones to commemorate their sorrows: and although the Greek boy knew where to find them and honoured them as favourites of his gods, he had not the same sentimental fondness for them as has our little American friend. A wild rose would never say to him: "I despise you;" nor does he expect a black-eyed Susan to blush from shyness.
The wild flowers have their own unique personalities. They exist as individuals and reproduce themselves. Every plant is a member of a family and has its relatives quite as well as those of the animal world. To know them it is necessary that we should seek them in their homes: they seldom come to us.
It is for this reason that a classification according to the soil in which they grow is feasible. It is a tangible point of which to take hold. And although there are some fickle-minded plants that appear to flourish in different kinds of soil, they may be regarded rather as those straying away from family tradition, than as trustworthy examples. As a rule they are partial to particular kinds of soil and do not thrive nearly so well in other than that allotted to them by Dame Nature. The marsh marigold, with which most of us are familiar, when it reaches the sunny, warmer south retires to the wet, cool woods in search of a soil similar to that of its home marshes. The harebell, that is with us a shy plant, hiding itself in shady places and rooting in moist soil, in England ventures out into the meadows and highways. It has there not our midsummer heat with which to contend and finds the soil of the fields not unlike that of our shaded banks.
It would therefore seem that, putting aside an analysis of their minuter parts, the different species of plants could be most readily known by their locality. With one exception the great family of golden-rods are yellow; but they do not all grow in the same kind of soil. The knowledge, therefore, that one inhabits a swamp will be of more value to identify it than to know its colour. For the convenience of those, however, that are accustomed to a classification by colour, an index, in which the plants are arranged under the dominant colour of the blossoms, has been provided*
With the knowledge of this point and knowing also the soil in which they grow, little difficulty should be encountered in determining the position of any plant in the book.
It has seemed most natural to make the divisions of soil according to a gradation from plants that grow in water through those of mud and those of moist, rich, rocky, light and sandy soils respectively to those that flourish in dry and waste ground. Under this classification the primary idea in grouping the genera has been to keep the families together, and so far as is consistent with this plan they have been arranged according to their seasons of blooming.
The common English name, or several common names, when they exist, and the scientific names of the plants are first given. Accents have been placed upon the latter as being an assistance to their correct pronunciation. Then follow, so that they may be seen at a glance, the family, colour, odour, range and time of bloom. A simple analysis is also given, from which the manner of their growth and the form and number of their parts can be learned. From the routine order of placing first the root, or stem, a deviation has been indulged in by beginning with a description of the flowers. It is thought to be more considerate to allow the novice to satisfy his enthusiasm over the blossom before claiming his attention for the root, stem, and leaves.
The technical terms that have been used will not be found difficult to conquer by a little patience and study of the next chapter. The student will then be armed with a vocabulary from which two words will serve him for twenty of his own that he might otherwise employ. Every science has its phenomena that individuals are ready to master; but for some strange reason botany has, until recently, been so enwrapped in the gloom of technical expressions that it has been declared impossible. Happily this idea has become a phantom of history. The change undoubtedly is greatly owing to the many delightful books that have been written on this subject. It is these books that make naturalists. Modesty, we learn from the flowers, is one of the winsome virtues. It is therefore said with much modesty that what has been formerly lacking to make these books thoroughly useful and practicable to the student is supplied in the present volume. It is colour. To the development of science we owe the existence of the sixty-four coloured plates that are here reproduced. They and the pen-and-ink sketches are from original studies from nature and show us many of our familiar as well as rare wild flowers. In the selection of them the range has not been limited; simply from America's great wealth of bloom those have been chosen that have some especial claim on our attention. This work has been greatly facilitated by the most kind and generous aid of Dr. Britton.
Mrs. Rowan received invaluable assistance from Mr. Beadle, the well-known botanist of Baltimore; and while in Asheville was enabled, through his courtesy and that of his colleagues, to get many rare specimens of native plants from the mountains of North Carolina.
Besides accuracy, Mrs. Rowan has a particularly happy faculty of transmitting to paper the atmosphere of the plants, so that in looking at them we almost feel their texture and sense a whiff of the salt marsh in which they grew, or the cool, spicy odour of the pine thickets. How differently these coloured plates impress us from those that gave dreary pleasure to our ancestors, when a patch of colour and a bit of green that was taken on faith as the accompanying leaves caused them to exclaim mechanically, "It is a flower."
That the book introduces many new friends among the wild flowers and that it adds colour constitutes its claim upon the reader.
About the flowers grave lessons cling, Let us softly steal like the tread of spring And learn of them.
The mark *** which appears in the list designates the plates that are produced in colour. The number of the page given for each of these coloured plates is that of the printed page faced by the coloured plate in each case.