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 - Very fragrant, white, in a spike; 6 to 20, nodding from an erect, bracted scape 6 to 20 in. high. Calyx 5-parted; corolla, over 1/2 in. across, of 5 concave, obtuse petals; 10 stamens, 1 protruding pistil, style curved, stigma 5-lobed. Leaves: All spreading from the base by margined petioles; shining leathery green, round or broadly oval, obtuse, 1 1/2 to 3 in. long, persistent through the winter.
Preferred Habitat - Open woods.
Flowering Season - June - July.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Georgia, west to Ohio and Minnesota.
Deliciously fragrant little flowers, nodding from an erect, slender stalk, when seen at a distance are often mistaken for lilies-of-the-valley growing wild. But closer inspection of the rounded, pearlike leaves in a cluster from the running root, and the concave, not bell-shaped, white, waxen blossoms, with the pistil protruding and curved, indicate the commonest of the pyrolas. Some of its kin dwell in bogs and wet places, but this plant and the shin-leaf carpet drier woodland where dwarf cornels, partridge vines, pip-sissewa, and gold-thread weave their charming patterns too. Certain of the lovely pyrola clan, whose blossoms range from greenish white, flesh-color, and pink to deep purplish rose, have so many features in common they were once counted mere varieties of this round-leaved wintergreen - an easy-going classification broken up by later-day systematists, who now rank the varieties as distinct species. It will be noticed that all these flowers have their anthers erect in the bud but reversed at flowering time, each of the two sacs opening by a pore which, in reality, is at the base of the sac, though by reversion it appears to be at the top. To these pores small bees and flies fasten their short lips to feed on pollen, some of which will be necessarily jarred out on them as they struggle for a foothold on the stamens, and will be carried by them to another flower's protruding stigma, which impedes their entrance purposely to receive the imported pollen.
By reason of the old custom of clapping on a so-called "shin-plaster " to every bruise, regardless of its location on the human body, a lovely little plant, whose leaves were once counted a first aid to the injured, still suffers instead under an unlovely name. The Shin-leaf (P. elliptica) sends up a naked flower-stalk, scaly at the base, often with a bract midway, and bearing at the top from seven to fifteen very fragrant, nodding, waxen, greenish-white blossoms, similar to the round-leaved wintergreen's. But on the thinner, dull, dark-green, upright leaves, with slight wavy indentations, scarcely to be called teeth, on the margins, their shorter leaf-stalks often reddish, one chiefly depends to name this common plant. It is usually found, in company with a few or many of its fellows, in rich woodlands so far west as the Rocky Mountains, blooming from June to August, according to the climate of its wide range.
When the little Serrated or One-sided Wintergreen (P. se-cunda) first sends up its slender raceme in June or July, it is erect; but presently the small, greenish-white flowers, opening irregularly along one side, appear to weigh it downward into a curve. Usually several bracted scapes rise from a running, branched root-stock, to a height of from three to (rarely) ten inches above a cluster of basal evergreen leaves. These latter are rather thin, oval, slightly pointed, wavy or slightly saw-edged, the midrib prominent above and below. A peculiarity of the flowers is, that their petals are partially welded together into little bells, with the clapper (alias the straight green pistil) protruding, and the stamens united around its base. After the blossoms have been fertilized, the tiny, round, five-scalloped seed-capsules, with the pistil still protruding, remain in evidence for months, as is usual in the py-rola clan. Small as the plant is, it has managed to distribute itself over Europe, Asia, and the woods and thickets of our own land from Labrador to Alaska, southward to California, Mexico, and the District of Columbia.
Another little globe-trotter, so insignificant in size that one is apt to overlook it until its surprisingly large blossom appears in June or July, is the One-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora), found in cool northern woods, especially about the roots of pines, in such yielding soil as will enable its long stem to run just below the surface. One-flowered Pyrola, it is often called, although it belongs to a genus all its own. A boldly curved stalk, like a miniature Bo-peep crook, enables the solitary white or pink widely open flower to droop from the tip, thus protecting its precious contents from rain, and from crawling pilferers, to whom a pendent blossom is as inaccessible as a hanging bird's nest is to snakes. This five-petalled waxen flower, half an inch across or over, with its ten white, yellow-tipped stamens, and green, club-shaped pistil projecting from a conspicuous round ovary, never nods more than six inches above the ground, often at only half that height. When there is no longer need for the stalk to crook, that is to say, after the flower has begun to fruit, it gradually straightens itself out so that the little seed-capsule, with the style and its five-lobed stigma still persistent, is held erect. The thin, rounded, finely notched leaves, measuring barely an inch in length, are clustered in whorls next the ground. Whether one comes upon colonies of this gregarious little plant, or upon a lonely straggler, the "single delight" (moneses), as Dr. Gray called the solitary flower, is one of the joys of a tramp through the summer woods.