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.
Flower-heads - Numerous pearly-white scales of the involucre holding tubular florets only; borne in broad, rather flat, compound corymbs at the summit. Stem: Cottony, 1 to 3 ft. high, leafy to the top. Leaves: Upper ones small, narrow, linear; lower ones broader, lance-shaped, rolled backward, more or less woolly beneath.
Flowering Season - July - September.
Distribution - North Carolina, Kansas, and California, far north.
When the small, white, overlapping scales of an everlasting's oblong involucre expand stiff and straight, each pert little flower-head resembles nothing so much as a miniature pond lily, only what would be a lily's yellow stamens are in this case the true tlowers, which become brown in drying. It will be noticed that these tiny florets, so well protected in the centre, are of two different kinds, separated on distinct heads: the female florets with a tubular, five-cleft corolla, a two-cleft style, and a copious pappus of hairy bristles; the staminate, or male, florets more slender, the anthers tailed at the base. Self-fertilization being, of course, impossible under such an arrangement, the florets are absolutely dependent upon little winged pollen carriers, whose sweet reward is well protected for them from pilfering ants by the cottony substance on the wiry stem, a device successfully employed by thistles also (see page 77).
An imaginary blossom that never fades has been the dream of poets from Milton's day; but seeing one, who loves it? Our amaranth has the aspect of an artificial flower - stiff, dry, soulless, quite in keeping with the decorations on the average farmhouse mantelpiece. Here it forms the most uncheering of winter bouquets, or a wreath about flowers made from the lifeless hair of some dear departed.
In open, rocky places, moist or dry, the Clammy Everlasting, Sweet Balsam, or Winged Cudweed (Gnaphalium decurrens) prefers to dwell. A wholesome fragrance, usually mingled with that of sweet fern, pervades its neighborhood. Its yellowish-white little flower-heads clustered at the top of an erect stem, and its pale sage-green leaves, densely woolly beneath, the lower ones seeming to run along the stem, need no further description: every one knows the common everlasting. Its right to the Greek generic name, meaning a lock of wool, no one will dispute. From Pennsylvania and Arizona, north to Nova Scotia and British Columbia, its amaranthine flowers are displayed from July to September, the staminate and the pistillate heads on distinct plants. Many insect visitors approach the flowers; some, like the bees, are working for them in transferring pollen; others, like the ants, which are trying to steal nectar, usually getting killed on the sticky, cottony stem; and, hovering near, ever conspicuous among the larger visitors, is the beautiful hunter's butterfly (Pyrantels hunter a), to be distinguished from its sister the painted lady, always seen about thistles, by the two large eye-like spots on the under side of the hind wings. What are these butterflies doing about their chosen plants? Certainly the minute florets of the everlasting offer no great inducements to a creature that lives only on nectar. But that cocoon, compactly woven with silk and petals, which hangs from the stem, tells the story of the hunter's butterfly's presence. A brownish-drab chrysalis, or a slate-colored and black-banded little caterpillar with tufts of hairs on its back, and pretty red and white dots on the dark stripes, shows our butterfly in the earlier stages of its existence, when the everlastings form its staple diet.
When the hepatica, arbutus, saxifrage, and adder's tongue are running for first place among the earliest spring flowers, another modest little competitor joins the race - the Dwarf Everlasting (Antennaria plantaginifolia), also known as Plantain-leaved, Mouse-ear, Spring or Early Everlasting, White Plantain, Pussy-toes, and Ladies' Tobacco. From March to june, in different parts of its wide range, rocky fields, hillsides, and dry, open woods are whitened with broad patches of it, formed by runners; the fertile plants from six to eighteen inches high; the male plants, in distinct patches, smaller throughout. At the base the tufted leaves, which are green on the upper side, but silvery beneath, often woolly when young, are broadly oval or spatulate, the upper leaves oblong to lance-shaped, seated on the woolly stem. Charming little rosettes remain all winter, ready to send up the first flowers displayed by the vast host of composites. Several little heads of fertile florets, resembling tufts of silvery-white silk, are set in pale-greenish cups in a broad cluster at the top of the stem; the staminate florets in whiter cups with more rounded scales. Small bees, chiefly those of the Andrena and Halictus tribe, and many flies, attend to transferring pollen. Our friend, the hunter's butterfly, also hovers near. Range from Labrador to the Gulf of Mexico, westward to Nebraska.