This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Hirsute; leaves lanceolate, denticulate, acute, short-petioled, the lowest obovate, crowded; flowers large, solitary, borne above the axils. Stems six to twelve inches high, ascending from a shrubby base. Flowers one inch wide. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also Wood's Class-Book of Botany.)
THE ancient fables connected with flowers often seem common-place when taken as they stand, but there are often beautiful ideas beneath them, whether the authors intended so or not, and which even the dullest may perceive and the most intellectual admire. Indeed they should be regarded as allegories rather than as fables, if we would derive full benefit from them. There is, for instance, the story of Persephone, the charming daughter of Ceres, who for her great beauty was carried by Pluto to his dreary realms; and who for some fault could not be fully restored to her fond mother's arms, but was compelled to remain six months in the subterranean regions, and return to earth the other six only. The poet describes how ravishing was her annual visit, surrounded as she was by the beautiful blossoms and other accessories of the vernal season. In like manner we may feel in a measure carried to the Plutonic regions when winter comes to drive us away from the green fields and lovely flowers; and when our six months of cheerless solitude shall have passed, to feel with Persephone the pleasures which come with the returning flowers of spring.
Our present subject is a spring flower - one of those which even Persephone might welcome. It comes from the southern portion of our country, of which Longfellow in "Evangeline" says:
" Beautiful is the land, with its prairies and forests of fruit trees; Under the feet a garden of flowers, and the bluest of heavens Bending above, and resting its dome on the walls of the forest."
The poet is referring to Louisiana, where our plant is found as well as in the Carolinas where Walter first found it, and which suggested to him the name of Cistus Carolinianus - the Carolina Rock-rose. For our specimen we are indebted to Mrs. Lungren, of Volusia, Florida, where in the month of March it is one of the numerous early flowers of that flowery land, and clothes many a dreary sand-hill with its golden beauty.
In the past our plant would have been a Cistus, an old name employed by Pliny, the Roman writer of the beginning of the Christian era, to designate a "branching plant with leaves like thyme," and which may very well have been some of the European species. They abound in the south of Europe, extending nearly to Africa, and may perhaps embrace a hundred species. Most of these species are crimson, brown, or white, and were known as "Rock-roses," from their usual place of growth, and from the general form and color of the flowers giving the im-pression of miniature roses. One of these species had yellow flowers, like small suns, and was called from this fact Cistus Heli-anthemum. Jussieu divided the genus. He found some having five to ten valves or divisions in the capsule, and these he regarded as the true Cistus, while others had uniformly but three (see our Fig. 2), and these he kept under the old name of Heli-anthemum. This note from history is useful in connection with the meaning of the name in its application to our plant. Many of our modern text-books tell us "it is derived from two Greek words, helios the sun, and anthos flower; because the flower only opens when the sun shines," an explanation which would as readily apply to those known under Cistus as under our Heli-anthemum. Our text-books also give the name "Rock-roses" to the Helianthemum as well as to the genus from which it was taken. To save confusion we have ventured to add a prefix, and so have made "Sun Rock-roses."
There are many interesting facts probably remaining to be discovered in connection with our plant and its American comrades. The original species of Europe, which gave its name to the genus, has sensitive stamens, falling back on the petals if touched when the flower is expanded during sunshine. Darwin, the grandfather of the present illustrious philosopher who wrote near a hundred years ago, seems to have been aware of this fact. In his poem, " The Loves of the Plants," he says:
" Fair Cista, rival of the rosy dawn, Called her light choir, and trod the dewy lawn; Hailed with rude melody the new-born May, As cradled yet in April's lap she lay."
And in a note he says: "The flowers continue expanded but a few hours, falling off about noon or soon after, in hot weather. The courtship between the males and females in these flowers might be easily watched; the males are said to approach and to recede from the females alternately." In this fanciful strain he refers to what we now understand by pollenization.
Again in some of the allies of our species it has been noted, according to Don, and as specially referred to in the lines from Darwin, that they derived the name Helianthemum "because they open with the rising of the sun in the morning, and the petals fall off with the setting of the sun in the evening. But they only continue open as long as the sun shines. If the weather is dull, and the sun does not make its appearance, the flowers do not open, but remain unexpanded. Should this continue for several days together, they will decay in the bud." But in American species it has been noted that there are often some flowers which never open or show petals, sun or no sun - and just how the others open under sunshine has not been accurately noted. It is believed that the one we now describe, the Carolina Sun Rock-rose, always has complete flowers. At least Chapman, the most recent author, says so; but Torrey and Gray, in the "Flora of North America," are not sure of it; and Wood makes no distinction between it and those which have the separate forms of flowers. * Mr. Charles Darwin enumerates many plants which are now known to have two forms of flowers. These apetalous ones are arranged for self-fertilization, while the brighter flowers admit of a possible cross by the pollen of a strange flower; and this he regards as an argument in favor of the advantages of cross-fertilization, as for mere propagation the self-fertilizing forms of flowers would be sufficient. It is remarkable that, although the elder Darwin should refer to the motion of the stamens in Cistus, and the two forms of flower are well known to American Botanists, the eminent grandson should have wholly failed to notice the plant in his curious work. It will be well worth the while of the student to watch the behavior of these flowers, and indeed of the whole plant. There are too many who are content to repeat what others have written rather than to observe for themselves, and in this way errors are often perpetuated. Thus in our plant "Citizen Ventenat," who in the (French) year 8 wrote an account of the new plants growing in the garden of "Citizen Cels," tells us it was raised from seeds sent from Charleston, South Carolina, by Bosc, and that it has "fibrous roots;" and this statement has been repeated often since. But the reader will note by our drawing that the roots are rather fleshy than fibrous. With a very little more expansion they would be tuberous.
As this chapter is going through the press, it may be added, as an ascertained fact, that Wood is correct. This species has sometimes cleistogene flowers.
1. A complete average-sized plant.
2. Nearly mature capsule magnified, and cut across to show the three valves characteristic of the genus.