THE intermingling of spring and summer is so general in the bright grassy meadows, now so lovely in their greenness and beauty, that it is difficult to distinguish between the "beauteous children of the spring," and the more glorious summer flowers, which form the "motley meadow's glory and delight."
Where the meadows are damp we shall find here and there the Meadow Orchis (Orchis morio). Its flowers grow on a succulent stem, varying from eight inches to a foot high, and form a lax spike. Each flower is distinguished by the greenish-purple tint of the calyx, which forms a sort of helmet or hood over the purple lip, which is marked with dark spots. Here, too, we may find the early Purple Orchis (Orchis mascula), which we noticed in the spring woodlands. Its leaves are frequently spotted with black, and its flowers are altogether paler; sometimes, indeed, I have found them nearly white. When of a deeper tinted purplish or lilac hue, it is sometimes fragrant. Its lip is spotted.
The dwarf Dark-winged Orchis (Orchis ustulata) haunts the chalky pastures, where its low and close growth, dingy rusty purple flowers, with rough-looking spots, distinguish it. The Pyramidical Orchis (Orchis pyra-midalis) haunts the chalky meadows in summer-time. It is much handsomer than the foregoing. Its spike of rose purple flowers is somewhat egg-shaped, and shines like a mass of amethysts amongst the emerald green grass. The pinkish-coloured Marsh Orchis (O. latifolia) loves the half-drained meadow. The spotted Palmate Orchis (0. maculata) is more fond of the heathy pastures, and its white or pale purple flowers are more or less streaked with a darker tint. The Ply Orchis (Ophrys muscifera) presents the appearance of a number of flies creeping up the stem, and the Bee Orchis (0. apifera) has the same general resemblance to a cluster of bees. They are not uncommon in the South-eastern districts of England. The uses of the Orchis tribe are not many. The roots of the early purple variety were the staple of the once popular London morning beverage "saloop," and they are supposed to be the "long purples" of which Shakespeare speaks, though the "long purples" of to-day is the brilliant Purple Loosestrife (Lysimachia).
The Plantain tribe is common in meadows and pasture lands, as well as by the waysides. Indeed, the Large Plantain (Plantago major) bears the name of "way-bread," and is found everywhere near the haunts of man. Its egg-shaped leaves, through which the veins run from stem to point, are raised above the ground, and from the centre there springs the long thick spike of small green flowers, succeeded by the brown seeds so loved by singing birds. In Shakespeare's time the plantain-leaf was used as a plaster for broken shins, and its cooling application seems to be instinctively known to schoolboys. There is scarcely an old herbal but is eloquent on the cures which can be performed by the aid of the decoctions, washes, and applications of this common herb. So frequently does it spring up in the track of the colonist that the Indians call it the "Englishman's foot." Quite as common is the Bibbed Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), or Rib Grass. It has narrower and longer leaves, strongly ribbed from end to end, and is sometimes too common in meadows. Its tall dark oval-shaped heads nod amongst the meadow grass, and in June they are covered with white anthers. It is very common - too common - on the field of Bosworth, but it does not seem to affect the quality of the hay. On the battle-field of Naseby I first found the Hoary Plantain (Plantago media), whose spike is lighter and brighter coloured than either of its kindred. It is really pretty when the purple anthers hang from its silvery surface, and its scent is not unpleasant. The leaves are without footstalks, and hence it lies closer to the ground than even the larger plantains. On old pastures it may easily be found, and its presence on grassplots is not to be de-aired, as it destroys the grass in the neighbourhood of the root.
In July, on dry chalky pastures, the dull purplish-red flowers of the Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba) may be found. The flowers grow on a stem some two feet high. The egg-shaped serrated leaflets are numerous, and have the taste and scent of cucumber, and are freqently eaten in salads, though the flavour is somewhat hot. When the anthers appear the flower becomes conspicuous, as they are very numerous, and hairy around the head.
The Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) is more frequent in the Northern counties in moist meadows. The stem is from one to three feet in height. The dark purple flowers are much crowded on its oval head.
Its serrated ovate leaflets are situated on each side of a leaf-stalk. Its old name of bloodwort pointed to its real or supposed use as a styptic.
Midsummer will scarcely have passed ere the great Ox-eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) will stare boldly from the sides of the dry pastures. Sometimes it overtops the grass, and often shows its broad yellow disk and white rays on the sides of railway embankments.
The Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), with its hard, knobby, thistle-like head, covered with black scales and crowned with purple florets, stands sturdily above the pastures. Its dull-looking head has not the handsome ray-like fringe of florets of the Greater Knapweed (Cen-taurea scabiosa), the flowers of which are a deep lilac tint, but the scales of the involucre, or head, are more cottony. This plant is the mattefelon of our ancestors, and is noticed in one of the earliest books extant as "bolwede" and "cowede," and as having "leaves ylike to scabyose." This is also a flower of the pasture, field, and meadow. The Premorse or "Devil's-bit" Scabious (Scabiosa succisa), which received its common name from the fact of its root having the appearance of being bitten or cut off abruptly, has somewhat stiff and oblong hairy leaves. Its flowers are in buttonlike heads of a purplish-blue colour on a nearly simple stem. Its singular name was given it under the belief that "the divell, for the envie that he beareth to mankind, bit it off, because it would be otherwise good for many uses." Now, at all events, the flower is more beautiful than useful. The Smaller Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) is not so common in the middle and northern districts as the preceding. Its leaves are cut into segments like the knapweeds, and grow on the stem. Its five cleft flowers are of a purplish-lilac hue. It is frequently mistaken for the field knautia, which is a much larger plant, and whose outer florets form a ray round the flower. In the small scabious the long narrow leaves of the involucre extend beyond the flower.
Where the pasture is dry, or on the banks by the meadow-side, the old English Clary or Sage (Salvia verbenaca) grows. Its wrinkled ovate leaves have a fragrant odour. Its purple flowers scarcely emerge from the calyx, which grows in whorls round the square stem. It has always occupied a prominent place in English cookery. It is fried in pancakes, mixed with curd and made into cheese, or eaten on bread and butter. Its virtues, real and alleged, were numerous enough, and it received its name "clary" from the seeds being used to clear the eye. A much rarer species is the Meadow Sage (Salvia pratensis). It is easily distinguished from all adjoining plants by the bright purple flowers, wrinkled leaves, and sage-like odour. It is frequently cultivated, but it is not common in a wild state in this country.
Now, whilst the mowers are whetting their scythes, and the fragrant smell of the hay fills the summer air, let us sit on the haycock, and glance at the flowers around us. The Germander Speedwell is yet in bloom, and its bright blue blossoms contrast gaily with the yellow Lady's Slipper or Bird's-foot Lotus (Lotus cor-niculatus), which is common on all grass lands. This is a species of trefoil, which has umbellate butterfly-shaped blossoms of a rich golden hue. The half-open buds, and sometimes the flowers, are tinged with crimson. It has a little leaf at the top of the flower-stalk. In general appearance it is not much unlike its neighbour the Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), which, however, has its yellow flowers set in a woolly cup. Children call the plant lambs' toes and ladies' fingers. The pale blue-green leaflets, which are hairy and pinnate, distinguish it from the foregoing. The plant was formerly used as a vulnerary, and was sold as such in the herb markets.
All around us we may see the tall stems of the Sorrel, with its ruddy whorls of flowers. The flower-stems are not attractive, and we all know the grateful acidity of the foliage. The larger variety (Rumex acetosa) is the green sauce of boyhood, and is common in meadows; the smaller (Rumex acetosella) frequents dry pastures, but its acidity is not so strong. It is the sour grass of Irish children, and either forms a grateful addition to the salad bowl.
If the land is poor, the Yellow Battle (Bhinanthus crista -galli) is almost sure to be present, with its yellow flowers, and narrow, oblong, serrated leaves growing down the rigid stem, which is often speckled with black. The plant is parasitic, and derived its name of rattle grass from its seed-vessels, in which the seeds rattle when shaken by the wind.
Barely, however, shall we find the meadow Pinks. The Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) is perhaps the most common. Its rose-coloured blossoms, spotted with white, grow in clusters. It has no scent, but is easily recognized as a pink by its grass-like foliage.
The Proliferous Pink (Dianthus prolifer) may be readily distinguished by its small deep-coloured purple flowers, only one head of which expands at a time. The Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) has a rose-coloured blossom spotted with white, and a white eye enclosed in a deep purple ring. It has a much-branched stem. By the hedge-side the Musk Mallow (Malva moschata) will be found. Its flowers are pale pink; its leaves, kidney-shaped and lobed. It forms a good foreground cluster for the artist, and it is known by the strong musky odour of both flowers and foliage. It is not uncommon in the meadows washed by the Warwickshire Avon.
Near the mallow the Yellow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) will probably be found, as well as on the borders of the meadows where the tall grass grows rank and wild, through which the long stem climbs by means of the numerous tendrils. Its thin leaflets grow in pairs, and its beautiful racemes of yellow flowers grow seven or eight in a cluster.
The grasses are now in full bloom, and we long to be in some quiet nook "On the verdant grass, Beneath the covering trees, To cheat the hours with short repose."