COMPOSITE FAMILY - Compositae: Common Daisy; White-weed; White or Ox-eye Daisy; Marguerite; Love-me, Love-me-not
Flower-heads--Disk florets yellow, tubular, 4 or 5 toothed, containing stamens and pistil; surrounded by white ray florets, which are pistillate, fertile. Stem: Smooth, rarely branched, 1 to 3 ft. high. Leaves: Mostly oblong in outline, coarsely toothed and divided.
Preferred Habitat--Meadows, pastures, roadsides, waste land.
Distribution--Throughout the United States and Canada; not so common in the South and West.
Myriads and myriads of daisies, whitening our fields as if a
belated blizzard had covered them with a snowy mantle in June, fill
the farmer with dismay, the flower-lover with rapture. When vacation
days have come; when chains and white-capped old women are to be made
of daisies by happy children turned out of schoolrooms into meadows;
when pretty maids, like Goethe's Marguerite, tell their fortunes by
the daisy "petals"; when music bubbles up in a cascade of ecstasy from
the throats of bobolinks nesting among the daisies, timothy, and
clover; when the blue sky arches over the fairest scenes the year can
show, and all the world is full of sunshine and happy promises of
fruition, must we Americans always go to English literature for a song
to fit our joyous mood?
"When daisies pied, and violets blue,
And lady-smocks all silver white,
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue,
Do paint the meadows with delight--"
sang Shakespeare. His lovely suggestion of an English spring recalls
no familiar picture to American minds. No more does Burns's.
"Wee, modest, crimson-tippit flower."
Shakespeare, Burns, Chaucer, Wordsworth, and all the British poets who have written familiar lines about the daisy, extolled a quite different flower from ours--Bellis perennis, the little pink and white blossom that hugs English turf as if it loved it--the true day's-eye, for it closes at nightfall and opens with the dawn.
Now, what is the secret of the large, white daisy's triumphal conquest
of our territory? A naturalized immigrant from Europe and Asia, how
could it so quickly take possession? In the over-cultivated Old World
no weed can have half the chance for unrestricted colonizing that it
has in our vast, unoccupied area. Most of our weeds are naturalized
foreigners, not natives. Once released from the harder conditions of
struggle at home (the seeds bring safely smuggled in among the ballast
of freight ships, or hay used in packing), they find life here easy,
pleasant; as if to make up for lost time, they increase a thousandfold.
If we look closely at a daisy--and a lens is necessary for any but the
most superficial acquaintance--we shall see that, far from being a
single flower, it is literally a host in itself. Each of the so-called
white "petals" is a female floret, whose open corolla has grown large,
white, and showy, to aid its sisters in advertising for insect
visitors--a prominence gained only by the loss of its stamens. The
yellow centre is composed of hundreds of minute tubular florets
huddled together in a green cup as closely as they can be packed.
Inside each of these tiny yellow tubes stand the stamens, literally
putting their heads together. As the pistil within the ring of stamens
develops and rises through their midst, two little hair brushes on its
tip sweep the pollen from their anthers as a rounded brush would
remove the soot from a lamp chimney. Now the pollen is elevated to a
point where any insect crawling over the floret must remove it. The
pollen gone, the pistil now spreads its two arms, that were kept
tightly closed together while any danger of self-fertilization lasted.
Their surfaces become sticky, that pollen brought from another flower
may adhere to them. Notice that the pistils in the white ray florets
have no hair brushes on their tips, because, no stamens being there,
there is no pollen to be swept out. Because daisies are among the most
conspicuous of flowers, and have facilitated dining for their visitors
by offering them countless cups of refreshment that may be drained
with a minimum loss of time, almost every insect on wings alights on
them sooner or later. In short, they run their business on the
principle of a cooperative department store. Immense quantities of the
most vigorous, because cross-fertilized, seed being set in every
patch, small wonder that our fields are white with daisies--a long and
a merry life to them!