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 - White tinged with pink, or all white, about I in. long, growing in a dense terminal cluster. Calyx 5-parted, bracted at base; corolla irregular, broadly tubular, 2-lipped; upper lip arched, swollen, slightly notched; lower lip 3-lobed, spreading, woolly within; 5 stamens, 1 sterile, 4 in pairs, anther-bearing, woolly; 1 pistil. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, erect, smooth, simple, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, lance-shaped, saw-edged.
Snake-Head Or Turtle-Head. ( Chelone glabra.)
Preferred Habitat - Pitches, beside streams, swamps.
Flowering Season - July - September.
Distribution - Newfoundland to Florida, and half way across the continent.
It requires something of a struggle for even so strong and vigorous an insect as the bumblebee to gain admission to this inhospitable-looking flower before maturity; and even he abandons the attempt over and over again in its earliest stage before the little heart-shaped anthers are prepared to dust him over. As they mature, it opens slightly, but his weight alone is insufficient to bend down the stiff, yet elastic, lower lip. Energetic prying admits first his head, then he squeezes his body through, brushing past the stamens as he finally disappears inside. At the moment when he is forcing his way in, causing the lower lip to spring up and down, the eyeless turtle seems to chew and chew until the most sedate beholder must smile at the paradoxical show. Of course it is the bee that is feeding, though the flower would seem to be masticating the bee with the keenest relish! The counterfeit tortoise soon disgorges its lively mouthful, however, and away flies the bee, carrying pollen on his velvety back to rub on the stigma of an older flower. After the anthers have shed their pollen and become effete, the stigma matures, and occupies their place. By this time the flower presents a wider entrance, and as the moisture-loving plant keeps the nectaries abundantly filled, what is to prevent insects too small to come in contact with anthers and stigma in the roof from pilfering to their heart's content? The woolly throat discourages many, to be sure; but the turtle-head, like its cousins the beard-tongues, has a sterile fifth stamen, whose greatest use is to act as a drop-bar across the base of the flower. The long-tongued bumblebee can get his drink over the bar, but smaller, unwelcome visitors are literally barred out.
If bees are the preferred visitors of the turtle-head, why do we find the Baltimore butterfly, that very beautiful, but freaky, creature (Melitaca phaeton) hovering near? - that is, when we find it at all; for where it is present, it swarms, and keeps away from other localities altogether. On the under side of the leaves we shall often see patches of its crimson eggs. Later the caterpillars use the plant as their main, if not exclusive, food store. They are the innocent culprits which nine times out of ten mutilate the foliage. (Illustration, p. 92.)