Stem. - With rusty hairs, prostrate or trailing. Leaves. - Rounded, heart-shaped at base, evergreen. Flowers. - Pink, clustered, fragrant. Calyx. - Of five sepals. Corolla. - Five-lobed, salver-shaped, with a slender tube which is hairy within. Stamens. - Ten. Pistil. - One, with a five-lobed stigma.
Pink, small, and punctual, Aromatic, low, describes, but does scant justice to the trailing arbutus, whose waxy blossoms and delicious breath are among the earliest prophecies of perfume-laden summer. We look for these flowers in April - not beneath the snow - where tradition rashly locates them - but under the dead brown leaves of last year; and especially among the pines and in light sandy soil. Appearing as they do when we are eager for some tangible assurance that the Spring comes slowly up this way, they win from many of us the gladdest recognition of the year. In New England they are called Mayflowers, being peddled about the streets of Boston every spring, under the suggestive and loudly emphasized title of "Ply-y-mouth Ma-ayflowers!" Whether they owe this name to the ship which is responsible for so much, or to their season of blooming, in certain localities, might remain an open question had we not the authority of Whittier for attributing it to both causes. In a note prefacing "The Mayflowers," the poet says: "The trailing arbutus or Mayflower grows abundantly in the vicinity of Plymouth, and was the first flower to greet the Pilgrims after their fearful winter." In the poem itself he wonders what the old ship had Within her ice-rimmed bay In common with the wild-wood flowers, The first sweet smiles of May ? and continues Yet "God be praised ! " the Pilgrim said,
Who saw the blossoms peer Above the brown leaves, dry and dead,
"Behold our Mayflower here ! "
God wills it, here our rest shall be,
Our years of wandering o'er, For us the Mayflower of the sea
Shall spread her sails no more.
O sacred flowers of faith and hope,
As sweetly now as then, Ye bloom on many a birchen slope,
In many a pine-dark glen.
So live the fathers in their sons,
Their sturdy faith be ours, And ours the love that overruns
Its rocky strength with flowers.
If the poet's fancy was founded on fact, and if our lovely and widespread Mayflower was indeed the first blossom noted and christened by our forefathers, it seems as though the problem of a national flower must be solved by one so lovely and historic as to silence all dispute. And when we read the following prophetic stanzas which close the poem, showing that during another dark period in our nation's history these brave little blossoms, struggling through the withered leaves, brought a message of hope and courage to the heroic heart of the Quaker poet, our feeling that they are peculiarly identified with our country's perilous moments is intensified:
The Pilgrim's wild and wintry day
At shadow round us draws; The Mayflower of his stormy bay
Our Freedom's struggling cause.
But warmer suns erelong shall bring
To life the frozen sod; And, through dead leaves of hope shall spring
Afresh the flowers of God !
Plate LXI. Trailing Arbutus. - E. repens.