But other members of the Compositae family have no outflashing rays, but are made up entirely of trumpet-shaped florets like those in the yellow centre of the daisy. These are called "Tubuliflorae," tube-flowers, and in this category the burdock and the thistle are found.
The florets which make up the blossom-heads of the chicory, salsify, dandelion, and sow-thistle are also alike in form and color; but these are all strap-shaped like the white rays on the outside of the daisy.
Those members of the Compositae family which bear such blossom-heads as these are called Liguli-florae "strap-flowers".
But each and every one of the strap-shaped florets borne by the sow-thistle and its allies has both stamens and pistil, and all the Compositae of this particular persuasion have a milky juice.
About all the "dooryard-weeds," which have followed mankind for ages, there has gathered a wealth of legend, folk-lore, and literary association.
Amaranth (Fig. 97), "the flower of death," for instance, is almost as common as death itself. It grows in waste places near towns, and is a coarse weed, topped with a feathery greenish or purplish plume.
Some species of amaranth are cultivated in old-fashioned gardens, and called "cockscomb," "love-lies-bleeding," and "prince's-feather." The gardener knows and hates another variety under the name of "pigweed." All varieties bear blossoms no bigger around than a hair, and these minute flowers grow in compact clusters, each cluster surrounded by a close circle of chaffy leaves, very slow to wither. The familiar "immortelles," though they are not related to the amaranth, are on the same botanical plan, and their white chaffy leaves (a botanist would call them the involucre) being pretty as well as durable, have brought the little blossoms into general favor. The unwither-ing amaranth was looked upon by the ancients as the flower of immortality. The phrase in the First Epistle of St. Peter, "a crown of glory that fadeth not away," is in the original, "the amaranthine crown of glory." The purple flowers of the amaranth retain their color always, and regain their shape when wetted, and were used by the ancients for winter chaplets. As the flower of immortality amaranth was strewed over the graves of old Greece, and Homer relates that the Thessalonians wore crowns of it at the burial of Achilles. Wreaths of it are still worn, and are hung over doors and windows by Swiss peasants on Ascension Day. Milton speaks of "Immortal amaranth, a flower which once In Paradise, fast by the Tree of Life, Began to bloom; but soon for man's offence, To heaven removed, where first it grew, there grows And flowers aloft shading the Fount of Life".
And his angels are "Crowned with amaranth and gold".
From being the flower of immortality, amaranth became, by a natural association of ideas, the flower of death. In a beautiful poem by Longfellow, "The Two Angels," it crowns the brows of Azrael, the Death Angel, while the Angel of Life wears a wreath of asphodels or daffodils, the flowers of life. Because perhaps death is as strong as love, amaranth is an antidote for the love-philtre. Yet who would expect to find the flower hymned of many poets on the coarse crouching weed which invades the bean-patch, or disfigures the gravel-paths once our pride?
When the signal-service was still far in the unknown future country people used to forecast the weather by the doings of some common and familiar plants, which are now superseded by modern science and are no longer consulted as oracles or reverenced as prophets. "Chickweed, for instance," says Thistleton Dyer, "expands its leaves fully when fine weather is to follow, but if they are half closed, then the traveller is to put on his great-coat"; and, according to the "Shepherd's Calendar," thistle-down or dandelion-down "whisking about and turning around foreshadows tempestuous winds." "If the down flieth off dandelion and thistles when there is no wind," says another old collection of flower-lore, "it is a sign of rain".
The sow-thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) (Fig. 97), though it is an immigrant from the Old World, is already common enough in some sections of the country to fall under the ban of the farmer. In rural England one of its popular names is "hare's-palace," because, according to the "Grete Herbale," "if the hare come under it he is sure that no beast can touch him".
In Italy at Christmas tide mangers are decorated in honor of the Christ-Child with mosses, branches of cypress and holly, and the yellow flowers of the sow-thistle. Why this dooryard-weed appears in such an honorable situation we cannot tell. Perhaps for the very practical reason that it is one of the few flowers to be found blooming out of doors in mild December weather. Or perhaps its out-flashing golden petals suggested the sun, and so the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, much as the radiant aspect of some white and golden June flowers, caused them to be associated with Baldur, the Norse god of the summer sunshine.
The plantain or ribwort (Plantago major), that persistent intruder upon our lawns, was once highly esteemed as a healer of wounds, and hence, in some parts of England it was known as "wound-weed." One would almost as soon associate legend and fantasy with a cabbage as with this coarse-leaved herb (Fig. 98) whose aspect is matter of fact to the last degree. Yet in rural parts of the Old World it was - perhaps it still is - the favorite midsummer-dream plant. For just one hour on just one day of the year there may be found, beneath its leaves, a rare and magic coal; and with this under the pillow one will learn one's fate in a dream.
"When Aubrey happened to be walking behind Montague House," says Thistleton Dyer, "at twelve o'clock on Midsummer's Day, he saw about twenty young women, all, apparently, very busy weeding. On making inquiries he was told that they were looking for a coal under the root of a plantain, to put beneath their heads that night, when they would surely dream of their future husbands." Some matter-of-fact person long ago discovered that the "coal" is only a blackened root, which may be found whenever it is looked for.
Fig. 98. - "Ribwort" and "ripple-grass".
a, Plantago major; b, Plantago lanceolata; c, young floret magnified; d, older floret magnified.
From long-cherished faith in its potency it has come about perhaps that in the north of England the flower-spikes of the closely allied ripple-grass (Plantago lanceolata) were used as love-charms. But no magic which the plantain may have wrought as an inspirer of dreams or fetterer of maiden fancy is more wonderful than the story of its past as told by modern science.
"Our fields are full," says Grant Allen, "of degenerate flowers," and this is one of them. When we look closely at its green spikes we see that they are made up of numerous little four-rayed blossoms, whose pale and faded petals are tucked away out of sight, flat against the calyx. Yet their shape and arrangement distinctly recall the beautiful blue veronica, and it has been surmised that the two are very distant cousins. But the plantain flowers gave up devoting themselves to insects and became adapted for fertilization by the wind instead. Then the petals were no longer needed as a lure, and Nature withdrew their bright blue pigment, till they became the whitish, papery little affairs we see to-day.
Each plantain blossom has both stamens and pistils, but the pistils mature first. In the commonest varieties they project between the folded petals while the little flowers are still in bud, and are fertilized by pollen blown to them from some neighboring spike. Their feathery tips are wonderfully fitted to catch and hold any stray grains which happen to come their way. After the little plumes of the pistil have withered away, the stamens ripen and dangle out on cobwebby filaments, so as to scatter all their pollen to the four winds.
Let us notice that the lower flowerets of the spike are the first to open; and so if we pick a half-blown spike we find that all the pistils are ripe above while the stamens are ripe below. If the upper flowerets opened first the pollen would fall from their stamens to the lower flowerets of the same spike; but as the pistils below have always been fertilized before the stamens are ripe above, there is no chance of such an accident, and the seeds of each spike are set by aid of pollen brought from another.
So the plantain is wholly adapted to wind fertilization and has lost the bright color which once upon a time served as a lure to the insects whose services are now dispensed with.
This "degeneration," as it is regarded by naturalists, is a sad result to follow upon untold years spent in our society. For the plantain is a "weed of civilization " which, from time out of mind, has sought human society and that of the best. So persistently does it haunt the track of man that one of its old popular names is "waybread".
This fondness of the plant for the edges of paths and roads has given rise to a German story that it was once a maiden, who, while watching by the wayside for her lover, was transformed into a weed by cruel magic; yet constant through all changes, she watches by the wayside still.
The North American Indians call the plantain "the print of the white man's foot." Longfellow alludes to this in those lines of "Hiawatha" which describe the coming of Europeans into the wild lands of the western world:
"Where so'ere they tread, beneath them Springs a flower unknown among us, Springs the ' White Man's Foot' in blossom".
Has it followed us westward and ever westward out of that mysterious land of the morning where human life began? Its origin, like that of its sister weeds, is wrapped in mystery, and its ways are past finding out. But one thing is sad and sure: individual weeds come and go, but the weed crop will never fail so long as the world endures.