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.
Flo7vers - Small, white or flesh pink, clustered in dense pyramidal terminal panicles. Calyx 5 cleft; corolla of 5 rounded petals; stamens numerous; pistils 5 to 8. Stem: 2 to 4 ft. high, simple or bushy, smooth, usually reddish. Leaves: Alternate, oval or oblong, saw-edged.
Preferred Habitat - Low meadows, swamps, fence-rows, ditches.
Flowering Season - June - August.
Distribution - Newfoundland to Georgia, west to Rocky Mountains. Europe and Asia.
Fleecy white plumes of meadow-sweet, the "spires of closely clustered bloom" sung by Dora Read Goodale, are surely not frequently found near dusty "waysides scorched with barren heat," even in her Berkshires; their preference is for moister soil, often in the same habitat with a first cousin, the pink steeple-bush. But plants, like humans, are capricious creatures. If the meadowsweet always elected to grow in damp ground whose rising mists would clog the pores of its leaves, doubtless they would be protected with a woolly absorbent, as its cousins are.
Inasmuch as perfume serves as an attraction to the more highly specialized, aesthetic insects, not required by the spiraeas, our meadow-sweet has none, in spite of its misleading name. Small bees (especially Andremdae), flies (Syrplidae), and beetles, among other visitors, come in great numbers, seeking the accessible pollen, and, in this case, nectar also, secreted in a conspicuous orange-colored disk. When a floret first opens, or even before, the already mature stigmas overtop the incurved, undeveloped stamens, so that any visitor dusted from other clusters cross-fertilizes it; but as the stigmas remain fresh even after the stamens have risen and shed their abundant pollen, it follows that in long-continued stormy weather, when few insects are flying, the flowers fertilize themselves. Self-fertilization with insect help must often occur in the flower's second stage. The fragrant yellowish-white English Meadow-sweet (S. ulmaria), often cultivated in old-fashioned gardens here, has escaped locally.
In long, slender, forking spikes the Goat's-beard (Aruncus Aruncus) - Spiraea aruncus of Gray - lifts its graceful panicles of minute whitish flowers in May and June from three to seven feet above the rich soil of its woodland home. The petioled, pinnate leaves are compounded of several leaflets like those on its relative the rose-bush. From New York southward and westward to Missouri, also on the Pacific Coast to Alaska, is its range on this Continent. Very many more beetles than any other visitors transfer pollen from the staminate flowers on one plant to the pistillate ones on another; other plants produce only perfect flowers - the reason different panicles vary so much in appearance.
Another herbaceous perennial once counted a spiraea is the common Indian Physic or Bowman's-root (Porteranthus trifoli-atits) - Gillensia trifoliata of Gray - found blooming in the rich woods during June and July from western New York southward and westward. Two to four feet high, it displays its very loose, pretty clusters of white or pale pink flowers, comparatively few in the whole panicle, each blossom measuring about a half inch across and borne on a slender pedicel. A tubular, 5-toothed calyx has the long slender petals inserted within. Owing to the depth and narrowness of the tube, the small, long-tongued bees cannot reach the nectar without dusting their heads with pollen from the anthers inserted in a ring around the entrance or leaving some on the stigmas of other blossoms. Later, the five carpels make as many hairy, awl-tipped little pods within the reddish cup. The leaves may be compounded of three oblong or ovate, saw-edged leaflets, or merely three-lobed, and with small stipules at their base.
Meadow-Sweet (Spirea salicifolia)