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.
Hairy, stems clustered, oblique ; leaves lance oblong, pinnatifid; calyx obliquely truncate ; upper lip of the corolla with two setaceous teeth at the apex. (Darlington's Flora Cestrica. See also Gray's Manual of Botany of the Northern States, and Chapman's Flora of the Southern States.)
EDICULARIS is a large genus, over a hundred species which belong to it having been described. Its members are most numerous in the Arctic regions, or at high elevations in mountain districts. Quite a number are found in the Rocky-Mountains, and some species grow in the high regions of Mexico. In the Atlantic States we have but two, one of these being P. Canadensis, now figured. This has a wide range for a plant whose family relations are so far to the north, as it is found in almost every State, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and extends west to the Rocky Mountains. In our country, however, our species seeks shade from the warm suns by taking to open woods, or getting on rising knolls in swamps or low grounds, where it may have the advantage of a humid atmosphere. It flowers very early in spring, being generally out of bloom and having its fruit ripened before the first of June.
The flowers are amongst the handsomest of our native plants, and the fern-like leaves set off to great advantage the floral beauty. An unusual feature is the great variety in the colors, at least in the specimens generally found in Pennsylvania. The upper portion of the corolla ranges from a light brown to a rich purple, while the lower portions are of a pure white, varying to a light yellow. These natural tendencies to change offer great inducements to the florist to attempt improvements. At any rate, the wild forms can be selected for cultivation. The plants do well when transplanted from their native wilds to our flower borders, if they are not in a situation much exposed to the full sun.
To those who love to watch the various processes of nature in the floral world, the manner in which these flowers are fertilized affords an interesting study. It is difficult to understand from the structure how they self-fertilize, or how they can receive much help from insect agency; and besides, insects will rarely be found visiting them, - at least this is the writer's experience,
- and yet every flower seems to perfect seed. There is evidently a field here for further discovery.
The name Pedicularis is a Latin adjective, signifying "belonging to a louse." In the northern countries of Europe some of the species abound, one of them, P. Sccptrum Carotinum, to such strength and in such abundance that, according to Linnaeus, it stopped a horse going at full speed. In these countries the whole family is in bad odor with stock-raisers, from an idea that cattle, and sheep especially, feeding on them become lousy. Like many other old notions in agriculture, this is no doubt a libel on these beautiful flowering plants. But the impression induced Linnaeus to give the name to this genus, and from it also comes the English name of Louse wort, wort being an old Saxon name for "plant." Americans, however, follow Dr. Gray in calling the plant "Wood-Betony," the "Betony" being from some resemblance to an English wild flower of that name.
The young botanist who attempts to dry plants is generally astonished that, with all his care, this one, admired so much in life, defies all efforts to preserve its colors well. It turns black under the best of care.
Some poets refer to the Betony in connection with "surprising situations or circumstances." This scarcely has reference to our plant; but if it had, the association would be not inappropriate. It is a matter of "surprise" that a flower so beautiful should have received so little poetic attention. Shakespeare, whose genius for observation was so universal, wholly overlooks it.
Perhaps the European species docs not strike the observer so favorably as ours strikes us. On the Wissahickon, near Philadelphia, there are rolling banks in the deep shade of woods completely moss-grown, among which the trailing arbutus Epigaea finds a welcome home. In the earliest spring the youno-go out to seek these beautiful flowers, and they have hardly gathered the last when our Pcdictdaris is ready for the floral harvest.
Perhaps, after all, it is often accident, more than actual worth, which brings some flower popularly forward. As Young says, "But own I must, in this perverted age Who most deserve can't always most engage; So far is worth from making glory sure, It often hinders what it should procure."
We have taken for our picture only a single branch from the root-stock. It is not uncommon to find a dozen or more in an old plant, all in bloom at the same time.
The way in which it pushes up and forms its flower-stems is interesting to the morphological student. When the flower-stem starts to grow, another set of buds begins to prepare for the next year. These buds proceed with their development at the side of those which are now making the flower shoot. The new buds form a tuft of a dozen leaves or so, and remain in that condition till the next spring, when they also throw up a flower shoot. Now this little tuft of a dozen leaves is really the equivalent of a branch. We must imagine a branch with a dozen leaves on it, spread apart so as to have an inch or two of space between each one. Then imagine this branch drawn in, as we draw in the circles of a coil of wire, and we have just the idea of these tufts of leaves. Now when the plant begins to flower, the spiral is drawn out, the leaves are scattered on the stem, and the head is borne upwards; but when the true flowering time is reached, we see that there is a sudden stoppage of this elongating growth, and we have a whole coil of bracts, but little altered from true leaves, forming a verticil under the spike of flowers. We see by this that the leaves had been pretty well developed before the drawing in of the spiral coil commenced, and the lesson taught us by our flower is therefore this, - that the matter of time in the acceleration and retardation of development is the main cause of many of the varied forms found in vegetation. When the accelerated motion precedes leaf development, as in many plants it does, there may be but very small bracts, or even no bracts at all. In most other species of Pedicu-laris the development is regular, and the involucral-like circle of bracteal leaves does not exist.
A further lesson we may gather from the flowers. The bracts - the small leaflets among the flowers - are changed leaves, and the flowers which spring from the axils are analogous to the branches which spring from the axillary bud at the base of the perfect leaf. A flower is, therefore, a modified branch, as the bract is a modified leaf. In many flowers we can trace the relations of the floral parts to leaves and branches; but in this the arrestation has been so severe that we lose all resemblances in the flower, and we cannot tell whether the corolla is made up of a single leaf or several. The attention of the student is directed to this point because here will ultimately be found the full explanation of the reason why flowers are sometimes of very peculiar forms.
Generally, we can tell what form the seed-vessel will assume before the petals or the corolla fade; but in this Pcdicularis, the capsule continues to grow, and ultimately assumes a sword-like beak, projecting beyond the calyx. (See Fig. 2.) When mature, it opens by a slit on the upper side through which the ripe seeds escape. Altogether it is a very interesting plant to study, as well as a pretty object to look at for those who wish to enjoy only the external beauty of nature.
1. A single branch from a root-stock.
2. Calyx and mature seed-vessel.