IN the summer-time the banks of the streamlet are covered with glory, as we wander by "The sad waters, sad and chilly With the snows of the lolling lily," or recline beneath the fat alder or the hoary willow. What is more beautiful than "A river in a greene mede, There as sweetnesse evirmore inough, With floureis white and blewe, yellow and rede"?
And amongst the white flowers what is more fragrant than the Meadow-Sweet (Spiroea ulmaria), which adorns the river-bank? "We all know its multitudinous cream like flowers, its ovate leaflets, with a large terminal and alternate small leaves. This is the Dropwort of our ancestors, though the true dropwort is the Spiraea filipendula, whose flowers are cream-tinted, tipped with rose-colour. This is found in dry pastures; and by the woody margins of rivers the Willow-leaved Dropwort (S. salicifolia) shows its branching shrubby stem and dull rose-coloured flowers.
By its side, though it does not attain its full beauty until rather later, are the gloriously tinted spikes of the Purple Loosestrife - the "long purple" of the Midland poets (Lythrwni salicaria). In all respects save that of time, this lovely plant answers to the " long purple " of Shakespeare, which is said to be the meadow purple orchis. The purple loosestrife is abundant on the banks of the Avon, near Stratford, on stems fully a yard long.
Before the loosestrife attains its full beauty, the drooping purple flowers of the Water-Avens (Geum rivale) have shown themselves where they grow, and the sword-shaped leaves of the Corn-flag (Iris pseud-acorus) have raised their yellow banner aloft over the stream or wet marsh. Its acrid root is said to have some virtues in case of toothache, and is sufficiently astringent to be a valuable ingredient in the manufacture of ink. Its juice has some reputation as a cosmetic, and its seeds have been roasted for coffee. The French call it La flambe aquatique. The common Purple Iris (Iris foetidissima) is more common on meadow lands. The roast beef odour of the flowers is a subject of common observation.
Here too we shall find the enamelled torquoise flower of the "Forget-me-not" (Myosotis palustris), the Water Scorpion Grass. Its bright blue flowers have a yellow eye, surrounded with white. Sometimes the Field Scorpion Grass (Myosotis arvensis) is called the forget-me-not, but the legend, of which we have given an outline in our story of the wild flowers, points to the palustris as the true flower. The Brooklime (Veronica beccdbunga) also bears a blue flower, and is frequently mistaken for the forget-me-not. Its stem is much thicker, the foliage is bluntly ovate, notched at the margins, and is lighter, thicker, more glossy, and is very pungent. It is sometimes gathered, when young, for the "Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) which has white cross-shaped flowers in small clusters. The Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis) also has blue flowers, but they are not so brilliant. The lance-shaped insipid leaves also distinguish the plant, which seems to be fond of deeper water than either the brooklime or the watercress.
Frequently by the side of ponds and rivers we may meet with the Celery-leaved Crowfoot (Ranunculus sceleratus). This acrid plant has a branched succulent stem, much-cut leaves, and small yellow flowers.
The pale flesh-coloured flowers of the Great Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) which grow in a cluster, raise their heads some two to four feet high. Its lanceolate leaves are uniformly cut into segments. It is one of the few plants that the herbalist and the doctor use alike. It has some reputation as a potherb under the name of setewall. The love of eats and even rats for the plant is remarkable: its influence over them seems uncontrollable. A similar-looking plant is the Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). Its dull pinkish flowers, greyish foliage, irregularly cut leaves, will enable any one to distinguish the two. The valerian is a solitary plant, while the hemp agrimony loves to grow in a cluster.
Early summer sees the somewhat rare Water Violet (Hottonia palustris) in bloom. It is known under the name of featherfoil, from its foliage, which floats under water; while its hollow stem rears its head, sur rounded by whorls of five-petalled lilac flowers. In some streams, about the same time, the Great Bladder wort (Utricularia vulgaris) puts out its somewhat bloated yellow flowers, with an upper and an under lip, the upper one being veined with purple. Some three or four flowers occupy the purple stalk. The threadlike leaves are remarkable for the little bladders attached, which gives the plant its name. These fill with air when it is necessary for the flowers to receive the sun's rays, but when the flowers are gone they again fill with water, carrying down the seed to mature and vegetate in a suitable soil.
Early in April the big platter-like leaves of the Water Lilies shoot up from their watery bed, and spread themselves out on the surface of the pool or river. The Yellow Lily (Nuphar luted) is the first to raise its greenish head above the surface of the water, and open its big eyes, which village children call brandy bottles, from their smell. As evening comes on, the flower closes its petals, and sinks beneath the water to sleep, as it were. The more rare, or rather less frequent White Water Lily (Nymphoea alba) is far more handsome. Its numerous petals are sometimes tinged with cream-colour, at other times with the most delicate pink, and at others they are like the snow. Poets have sung the praise of its "chalice of silver bright," and it is a favourite flower with both gentle and simple.
The fragile-looking, white, three-petalled flowers of the Frogbit (Hydrochans morsus rance) peep up from amidst their kidney-shaped and somewhat bronzed leaves, which elbow the bigger leaves of the water lily so unceremoniously, and sometimes cover a pond almost entirely. This plant is common in the Midlands, but is by no means evenly distributed. Another three-petalled flower, which rises out of a two-leaved sheath on a thick stalk, is the aloe-looking Water Soldier (Stratiotes aloides). This handsome plant is, however, rare, and is almost confined to the fens. Neither ought we to overlook the more common but handsome Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus). Its clusters of pink three-petalled flowers stand out like a lady's bouquet, each flower on a separate stem far above the surface of the water. Its sharp, irregular foliage is the source of many a cut finger and lacerated wound.
Surrounding the flowering rush is the singular looking arrow-headed foliage of the "Water Arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittifolia). Its three-petalled white flowers are marked generally with a pinkish spot in the centre. The tuberous root is said to be rich in feculent matter, useful for food after the acridity has been washed out.
In July we see the tall spike and whorled flowers of the Water Dock (Rumex aquaticus) above the other plants; and not far off, the tall ragged foliage of the Water Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus), surmounted by its loose clusters or corymb of golden flowers. The marsh St. John's "Wort, and the small delicately white Bedstraw (Galium palustre) is frequently found by the river-side; so is the bushy meadow Cranesbill, and many other damp meadow flowers.
Where there is a nook in the streamlet, or the water is shallow, there we may find a number of singular-looking plants, somewhat alike. These are the Mare's-tail (Hippuris vulgaris), whose cane-like green stems, surrounded by whorls of eight or ten dry horny leaves, rising one above another, are different from all the surrounding plants. Its flowers may be found, consisting of one stamen and one pistil, at the base of the upper leaves. The Horsetails (Equisetce) are somewhat similar, but the whorled leaves are pointed, and the stem may be taken to pieces in sections. The fructification is in a cone at the top of the stem. The horsetail is frequently found in railway cuttings, and on a poor dry sandy soil, as well as by the ditch-side. The common name is pewterwort, and indicates the old use of them for scouring pewter. The Water Milfoil, too (Myriophyllum spicatum), which occasionally shows its green leafless spike of flowers above the surface of the water, has its foliage arranged in a whorl of four leaves, which are always submerged.
The somewhat common Water Plantain (Alisma plantago) blooms in July near the bank in the river. Its strongly-ribbed leaves closely resemble the Common Plantain, but its flowers are pink and three-petalled, growing in clusters on a much-branched, bluntly triangular stem. The roots are wholesome.
There are two or three umbelliferous aquatic plants which ought to be avoided, which bloom in the summer months. The Hemlock Water Dropwort (OEnanthe crocata), which rears its tall head two or three feet high, and bears umbels of whitish flowers, is a most deadly poison. Its root is tuberous, and its foliage is something like celery. It is not so easily distinguished as the Tubular Dropwort (OEnanthe fistulosa), which has also white umbels, but whose stem and branches are hollow. Sometimes mistakes are made by watercress gatherers in taking the leaves of the Water Parsnip (Sium latifolium) - another dangerous umbelliferous plant - for the watercress. It is well to bear in mind that in the watercress the terminal leaf is rounder and larger than the rest; in the water parsnip it is not only smaller than the rest, but it is deeply serrated. This is fortunately rare.
Some of the Willow Herbs (Epilobium) make a great show by the river-sides, by the streamlets, and occasionally they are found in great quantities in damp ditches. Thegeranium-tinted flowers, willow-like leaves, and thick stems of the hairy Willow Herb (Epilobium hirsutum) cannot be mistaken. Children called it cod-lins-and-cream; but its sweet scent is rather sickly. The flowers are seated on long pods, which contain a number of seeds, tufted with cottony down. There is a small-leaved variety (E. parviflorum) which is also common. The Rosebay Willow Herb (E. augusti-folium) is not common in England, but is frequent by the side of Highland streams. There is also a square-stalked variety common near streams. The Smooth leaved "Willow Herb is a smaller plant, and prefers banks and roofs of cottages. The down of the seeds has been recommended for manufacturing purposes.