Many difficulties have been encountered in the arrangement of this guide to the flowers. To be really useful such a guide must be of moderate size, easily carried in the woods and fields; yet there are so many flowers, and there is so much to say about them, that we have been obliged to control our selection and descriptions by certain regulations which we hope will commend themselves to the intelligence of our readers and secure their indulgence should any special favorite be conspicuous by its absence.
These regulations may be formulated briefly as follows:
1. Flowers so common as to be generally recognized are omitted, unless some peculiarity or fact in their history entitles them to special mention.
Under this, Buttercups, Wild Roses, Thistles, and others are ruled out.
2. Flowers so inconspicuous as generally to escape notice are usually omitted.
Here Ragweed, Plantain, and others are excluded.
3. Rare flowers and escapes from gardens are usually omitted.
4. Those flowers are chosen for illustration which seem entitled to prominence on account of their beauty, interest, or frequent occurrence.
5. Flowers which have less claim upon the general public than those chosen for illustration and full description, yet which are sufficiently common or conspicuous to arouse occasional curiosity, are necessarily dismissed with as brief a description as seems compatible with their identification.
In parts of New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and in the vicinity of Washington, I have been enabled to describe many of our wild flowers from personal observation ; and I have endeavored to increase the usefulness of the book by including as well those comparatively few flowers not found within the range mentioned, but commonly encountered at some point this side of Chicago.
The grouping according to color was suggested by a passage in one of Mr. Burroughs's "Talks about Flowers." It seemed, on careful consideration, to offer an easier identification than any other arrangement. One is constantly asked the name of some "little blue flower," or some "large pink flower," noted by the wayside. While both the size and color of a flower fix themselves in the mind of the casual observer, the color is the more definitely appreciated characteristic of the two and serves far better as a clew to its identification.
When the flowers are brought in from the woods and fields they should be sorted according to color and then traced to their proper places in the various sections. As far as possible the flowers have been arranged according to the seasons' sequence, the spring flowers being placed in the first part of each section, the summer flowers next, and the autumn flowers last.
It has sometimes been difficult to determine the proper position of a flower - blues, purples, and pinks shading so gradually one into another as to cause difference of opinion as to the color of a blossom among the most accurate. So if the object of our search is not found in the first section consulted, we must turn to that other one which seems most likely to include it.
It has seemed best to place in the White section those flowers which are so faintly tinted with other colors as to give a white effect in the mass, or when seen at a distance. Some flowers are so green as to seem almost entitled to a section of their own, but if closely examined the green is found to be so diluted with white as to render them describable by the term greenish-white. A white flower veined with pink will also be described in the White section, unless its general effect should be so pink as to entitle it to a position in the Pink section. Such a flower again as the Painted Cup is placed in the Red section because its floral leaves are so red that probably none but the botanist would appreciate that the actual flowers were yellow. Flowers which fail to suggest any definite color are relegated to the Miscellaneous section.
With the description of each flower is given - 1. Its common English name - if one exists. This may be looked upon as its "nickname," a title attached to it by chance, often endeared to us by long association, the name by which it may be known in one part of the country but not necessarily in another, and about which, consequently, a certain amount of disagreement and confusion often arises.
2. Its scientific name. This compensates for its frequent lack of euphony by its other advantages. It is usually composed of two Latin - or Latinized - words, and is the same in all parts of the world (which fact explains the necessity of its Latin form). Whatever confusion may exist as to a flower's English name, its scientific one is an accomplished fact - except in those rare cases where an undescribed species is encountered - and rarely admits of dispute. The first word of this title indicates the genus of the plant. It is a substantive, answering to the last or family name of a person, and shows the relationship of all the plants which bear it. The second word indicates the species. It is usually an adjective, which betrays some characteristic of the plant, or it may indicate the part of the country in which it is found, or the person in whose honor it was named.
3. The English title of the larger Family to which the plant belongs. All flowers grouped under this title have in common certain important features which in many cases are too obscure to be easily recognized; while in others they are quite obvious. One who wishes to identify the flowers with some degree of ease should learn to recognize at sight such Families as present conspicuously characteristic features.
For fuller definitions, explanations, and descriptions than are here given, Gray's text-books and "Manual " should be consulted. After some few flowers have been compared with the partially technical description which prefaces each popular one, little difficulty should be experienced in the use of a botanical key. Many of the measurements and technical descriptions have been based upon Gray's "Manual." It has been thought best to omit any mention of species and varieties not included in the latest edition of that work.
An ordinary magnifying-glass (such as can be bought for seventy-five cents), a sharp penknife, and one or two dissecting-needles will be found useful in the examination of the smaller flowers. The use of a note-book, with jottings as to the date, color, surroundings, etc., of any newly identified flower, is recommended. This habit impresses on the memory easily forgotten but important details. Such a book is also valuable for further reference, both for our own satisfaction when some point which our experience had already determined has been forgotten, and for the settlement of the many questions which are sure to arise among flower-lovers as to the localities in which certain flowers are found, the dates at which they may be expected to appear and disappear, and various other points which even the scientific books sometimes fail to decide.
Some of the flowers described are found along every country highway. It is interesting to note that these wayside flowers may usually be classed among the foreign population. They have been brought to us from Europe in ballast and in loads of grain, and invariably follow in the wake of civilization. Many of our most beautiful native flowers have been crowded out of the hospitable roadside by these aggressive, irresistible, and mischievous invaders; for Mr. Burroughs points out that nearly all of our troublesome weeds are emigrants from Europe. We must go to the more remote woods and fields if we wish really to know our native plants. Swamps especially offer an eagerly sought asylum to our shy and lovely wild flowers.
Most young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight.