This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Clear rose pink, with greenish star in centre, rarely white, fragrant, 1 1/2 in. broad or less, usually solitary on long peduncles at ends of branches. Calyx lobes very narrow; corolla of 5 rounded segments; stamens 5; style 2-cleft. Stem: Sharply 4-angled, 2 to 3 ft. high, with opposite branches, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, 5-nerved, oval, tapering at tip, and clasping stem by broad base.
Preferred Habitat - Rich soil, meadows, thickets.
Flowering Season - July - August.
Distribution - New York to Florida, westward to Ontario, Michigan, and Indian Territory.
During the drought of midsummer the lovely rose-pink blooms inland with cheerful readiness to adapt itself to harder conditions than most of its moisture-loving kin will tolerate; but it may be noticed that although we may oftentimes find it growing in dry soil, it never spreads in such luxuriant clusters as when the roots are struck beside meadow runnels and ditches. Probably the plant would be commoner than it is about populous Eastern districts were it not so much sought after as a tonic medicine.
It was the Centaurea, represented here by the blue ragged sailor of gardens, and not our Centaury, a distinctly American group of plants, which, Ovid tells us, cured a wound in the foot of the Centaur Chiron, made by an arrow hurled by Hercules.
Three exquisite members of the Sabbatia tribe keep close to the Atlantic coast in salt meadows and marshes, along the borders of brackish rivers, and very rarely in the sand at the edges of fresh-water ponds a little way inland. From Maine to Florida they range, and less frequently are met along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico so far as Louisiana. How bright and dainty they are! Whole meadows are radiant with their blushing loveliness. Probably if they consented to live far away from the sea, they would lose some of the deep, clear pink from out their lovely petals, since all flowers show a tendency to brighten their colors as they approach the coast. In England some of the same wild flowers we have here are far deeper-hued, owing, no doubt, to the fact that they live on a sea-girt, moisture-laden island, and also that the sun never scorches and blanches at the far north as it does in the United States.
As might be expected, blossoms so bright of hue as the marsh pinks attract many insects. Guided by the yellow eye that serves as a pathfinder to the nectary, they feast on the generous supply of sweets; but all unwittingly they must pay for their entertainment by carrying pollen from early to later flowers. Like so many other blossoms, the sabbatias guard themselves against the evils of self-fertilization by shedding their pollen before they mature and spread their two-cleft style, which is now ready to receive the golden, quickening dust on its stigmatic inner surfaces.
The Sea or Marsh Pink, or Rose of Plymouth (S. stellaris), whose graceful alternate branching stem attains a height of two feet only under most favorable conditions, from July to September opens a succession of pink flowers that often fade to white. The yellow eye is bordered with carmine. They measure about one inch across, and are usually solitary at the ends of branches, or else sway on slender peduncles from the axils. The upper leaves are narrow and bract-like; those lower down gradually widen as they approach the root.
Sea Or Marsh Pink. (Sabbatia stellaris.)
Similar to the Rose of Plymouth is the even more graceful Slender Marsh Pink (S. Campanulata) - the S. gracilis of Gray - whose upper leaves are almost thread-like in their narrowness. Its five calyx lobes, too, are exceedingly slender, and often as long as the corolla lobes. One of our soldiers in Cuba, during the Spanish War, sent home to his sister in Massachusetts some of these same little flowers in a letter. "You would just love to see the marshes here," he wrote. "They are filled with beautiful little pink flowers. I wish I knew their names." That soldier had passed by New England marshes aglow with the blossoms all his life, but he had never noticed them until all his perceptions became quickened by the stimulus of travel and the excitement of war. How blind and deaf we all are in some directions; having eyes we see not, and ears we hear not, in the natural as in the spiritual realm.
No danger of confusing the Large Marsh Pink (S. dodecandra) - S. chloroides of Gray - with its smaller, more branching relatives. It displays few flowers to a plant, but each measures two and a half inches or less across, and has from nine to twelve pink (or rarely white) petals. This sabbatia often chooses the sandy borders of ponds for its habitat.