THE ears of the corn are pressing through their ribbed sheaths as summer advances. By the footpath we shall find the humble Chickweed (Stellaria media) pushing its tiny white stars by the side of its bright green leaves. It is a troublesome weed, and of little use save as food for fowls. The Medic is yet in flower. The Trefoils cluster round the borders of the field, where the Vetches are in bloom; but in the field we shall find one showing its blue-streaked flowers among the corn. This is the Strangle Tare (Vicia tetra-sperma). The Common Tare (Vicia sativa) is cultivated under the name of vetches or dills. The Yellow Vetchling (Lathyrus aphaca) is distinguished by its colour from the others we have mentioned. The tare of Scripture is supposed to be the Darnel (Solium tremulenium). Amongst the common trailing plants we shall see the heart-shaped leaves of the common Climbing Buckwheat (Polygonum convolvulus). This is a tiresome weed to the farmer, for its small and insignificant greenish-red flowers are succeeded by an abundance of seeds, and the habit of the plant is to climb the corn-blades and drag them down. Sometimes the leaves of the climbing buckwheat are mistaken for the sweet-scented small Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), whose pink bells and twisted shoots and leaves are common on road-sides as well as in corn-fields.
Where the soil is sandy the Hare's-foot Trefoil (Trifolium arvense) is common. It may be known by its small whitish head being covered with silky-looking grey hairs. The Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis) will not be far off, though it sometimes doe3 not bloom until later. This pretty flower grows on a stem about eight inches high. The leaves are scarcely thicker than threads, and grow in a whorl round the stem, which is thickened at the joints. The white flowers are not dissimilar to those of the chickweed, and grow in a loose panicle. Cattle are fond of the plant, though it is so little liked by the farmers that some of them call it pickpocket. In Scotland the plant is called yarr. It bears abundance of seeds, which it freely scatters, as its name implies. These are, however, but the smaller flowers of the field, and the Corn Gromwell (Lithospermum arvense) is but little more conspicuous, with its narrow-pointed hairy leaves and white flowers growing on a stem about a foot high. The peculiarity of the plant consists in its seeds, which are as hard as flint, and shine like pearls when the stem is withering away. The roots are of a bright red colour, and are sometimes used for dyeing linen. The Field Madder (Sherardia arvensis) loves the deep furrows. Its little stem is barely four inches high. The narrow leaves grow in whorls, and are distinguished by their rough edges. The bluish-lilac flowers grow in a close sessile umbel. Amongst the earlier flowers, though fortunately not generally, the Crow Garlic (Allium vineale) must be noticed, for it grows as tall as the midsummer corn, and rears it pale pink flowers as boldly as the most handsome plant. The bulbs are strong smelling, and the plant has hollow leaves round the base of the stalk, all of which smell strongly of garlic.
1. Crow Garlic. 2. Bitter Vetch. 3. Lotus. 4. Scarlet Horned Poppy. 5. House-leek. 6. Vetchlinng. 7. Bird's-foot.
"When midsummer has passed the Poppies begin to bloom, and the Common Red Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) grows freely in cultivated fields and waste places over England. It is the most showy of all our wild flowers, for its brilliant scarlet is exceedingly bright. It is also known by the names of headache and cheese-bowl. On the continent it is cultivated for the sake of the oil contained in its numerous seeds, which is used in cooking, and also in oil painting. We have six wild species of poppy, four of which are red. The "White Poppy (Papaver somniferum) is supposed to have been introduced from Asia. From its milky juice the opium of commerce is obtained.
The Corn Bluebottle (Centaurea cyanus) is one of the handsomest of our wild flowers. Like the knapweeds, the bluebottle has a disk of purple florets set in a hard scaly seed-cup, but it is fringed with a bright blue outer ray of florets. The stem is tall, hard, and slender; the leaves pale green, narrow, and woolly. This plant is noticed for its beauty by many of our poets, and has the country names of hurt-sickle, blue bonnet, and blue cap.
The tall Corn Cockle (Agrostemma githago) is also a handsome flower. Its purple flower grows on a stem some two feet high, and the sepals are lengthened until their points stretch beyond the flower-cup. In appearance the flower is not much unlike the campions. Its seed-vessel is large, and its black glossy seeds are numerous.
The blue Wild Succory, Endive, or Chicory (Ci-chorium intybus), is frequently found in light chalky soils, with its large pale bluerayed flowers growing on a stem some three feet high. Well may the Germans term it the "keeper of the ways." It opens its flowers at eight o'clock in the morning and closes them at four in the evening.
"Thus in each flower and simple bell That in our path untrodden lie Are sweet remembrances which tell How fast the winged moments fly."
The bright yellow blossoms of the Corn Marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) stud the fields for several months in the year. Under the old names of gold, goules, yellowbottle, and St. John's bloom it has been celebrated by poets from Chaucer downwards. The marigold and Marybuds of Shakespeare are different plants. The first is the Chrysanthemum coronarium, the garden variety; and the second the marsh marigold. The golden flowers grow singly on a tall angular branched stem, but the foliage is smooth and of a light green tint.
Another handsome plant is the Field Knautia (Knautia arvensis), which, though much taller, is frequently taken for the scabious. Its lilac head is slightly convex, but the outer row of florets are much larger than those in the centre. The root-leaves are hairy, undivided, and only slightly notched. The stem, however, is frequently three feet high. Occasionally the Flax (Linium usitatissimum), with its slender pea-green stem and foliage, and its dark blue erect bells, may be found on field borders. This is the flax of commerce, and its bright seed is the linseed. The fibrous quality of the stem is also present in the "White Flax (Linium catharticum), sometimes found by the roadside where the ground is chalky.
The two trailing plants known by the name of Toad Flax, or Fluellin, have nothing in common with the above. The flowers are yellow with a purple lip, borne on a slender stem. The Round-leaved variety (Linaria spuria) has round leaves, as its name implies; in the Sharp-pointed species (Linaria elatine) the leaves are broad and halberd-shaped.
The reddish-tinted brown-looking stem and leaves, the latter slightly notched, is the Red Bartsia (Bartsia odontites). It is perhaps as frequently met with in pastures as in corn-fields, under the common name of brown weed. Its two-lipped pink flowers grow down the stem in one-sided clusters, and form small sprays some eight or nine inches high.
A more common plant is the Annual Knawel (Soleranthus annus) in sandy fields. Its straggling stems have narrow opposite leaves united at the base. The minute green flowers are in leafy clusters. As the corn begins to ripen, several labiate plants begin to bloom. The Corn Mint (Mentha arvensis), with its egg-shaped stalk, notched leaves, square stem with whorls of small lilac flowers, is common. Its disagreeable odour distinguishes it from others of the tribe. The Red Dead Nettle and the Red Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis ladanum) are very common. The latter has rose-coloured variegated flowers, while the Common Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit) has a bristly stem, swelled below the joints, which the red variety has not, and the variegated corolla is principally yellow, or yellowish-white, with a broad purple spot on the lower lip.
There are many umbelliferous plants in our cultivated fields, or flourishing along the borders. These plants, so distinct as a family, are difficult to describe individually. The Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) has a compound umbel of white flowers, in the centre of wbich is a pink one. The leaves are finely divided, and the plant can be distinguished by the peculiar odour of the root, and by the singular appearance which the umbel presents as the flowers fade. The stalks all turn inwards until they form a sort of cup or bird's nest. This and the upright Hedge Parsley are the "kecksies" of the Midland shires, though it appears that the stems of other umbelliferous plants have been called kex. The Shepherd's Needle, or Venus Comb (Scandix pectin), is a well-kuown and pretty plant. No one who has ever seen its singular cluster of long pointed seed-vessels could forget it. It does not grow more than six or eight inches high, and there is little in its finely-cut leaves and white umbels to distinguish it from other plants belonging to the same family. The Hedge Parsley and Pool's Parsley (OEthusa cynapium) are also common on the field borders, but are scarcely attractive to the most ardent lover of " Nature's wildings."
The stubble fields, however, show that summer is closing, and that autumn has begun to gather in her rich fruits of the year.