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.
Stem erect, with procumbent runners at the base bearing round-ish-obovate and rather fleshy subsessile leaves; upper stem-leaves ovate-lanceolate: corymb few-flowered; stem four to six or eight inches high; leaves about an inch lung, more or less pilose and ciliate, - the lower ones spatulate-obovate, tapering to short margined petioles; corolla deep purplish-red, - the tube about an, . ich long, a little curved. (Dar-lington's Flora Cestrica. See also Gray's Manual of the, Botany of the Northern United States, Wood's Class-Book of Botany, and Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States.
OST of the Phloxes of the Eastern United States were well known to the botanists of the earlier part of the present century, and the species to which this chapter is devoted was one of their latest discoveries. It was first noticed in the mountains of North Carolina by Michaux, who described it, and gave it its present name, Phlox reptans. Shortly afterwards the same species was also found in Georgia by John Frazer, an English collector, and a representation of the plant appeared in the "Botanical Magazine," where it was described as Phlox sto-lonifera. Frazer also sent seeds to England, from which flowering plants were produced about 1800.
This incident is well calculated to show the origin of synonyms, which are so often a source of annoyance and difficulty to the student It must necessarily happen now and then that two people discover and describe the same thing simultaneously, or very nearly so, without having any knowledge of one another's work, or that some one describes a plant as new which is afterwards found to be different in no essential particular from one already described. In such cases the rule, that the oldest name shall have the preference, should be strictly adhered to. But our plant is still very generally called Phlox stolonifera by English authors, while American authors have without exception, and very justly, adopted the name Phlox reptans, as first used by Michaux.
It is curious to note the coincidence in the names given to our plant by Michaux, and by Curtis in the "Botanical Magazine," without any knowledge on the part of the one, of the doings of the other. For reptans is the Latin for "crawling," and stolonifera signifies "stolon-bearing," stolons being trailing or reclined and rooting shoots, or runners, which creep along the ground, like the runners of the strawberry. And indeed the peculiarity to which this species owes its distinctive appellation is very striking. Most of the Phloxes are what are called herbaceous plants; that is to say, the stalks die down to a root-stock or crown every year, and there is nothing left of the plant during winter but bud-like eyes, from which the flower-stalks and leaves push up in the spring. The Phlox reptans, however, is an evergreen, and the way in which it grows is well shown by our artist. The plant sends out a runner or stolon, and from the terminal bud, made at the end of the stolon in the fall, a central flower-shoot ascends, together with another shoot which bears nothing but leaves. Besides these two shoots, however, - both of which die in the fall, the leaf-bearing one seemingly without having accomplished anything, - a number of others push up, some of which are, only scantily clothed with leaves, while the rest bear no leaves at all. The scantily leaved shoots often root at the tip, but the best plants for the future are produced by the leafless runners, which form a bud at the end with roots, and then die. All these various kinds of shoots can be seen in our drawing. In the middle is the flower-stem, to its left is one of the scantily leaved shoots, to the right the full-leaved shoot, and part of the leafless, creeping runner, which is destined to form a good, strong, new plant. In the spring, when growth commences, small fibres push out from the old runner (a feature which may also be observed in our plate), which thus helps to sustain the plant, but the next year all this dies away; The plant is in reality a wanderer; and in culture, to which it readily adapts itself, it has to be watched, and must now and then be brought back to its proper quarters, as otherwise there is danger that it will quietly walk away and eventually disappear entirely from the florists collection.
It seems almost unnecessary to call attention to the advantages which this plant offers to the ornamental designer. The almost entire leaves, of a noble simplicity of form; the very straight and precise flower-stalk; the few flowers, set on the summit, at regular distances from each other, like the arms of a candelabrum; the corolla, with its rounded segments arranged carefully one-over the other, and disposed so as to produce a symmetrical outline; and finally the whole arrangement of the parts in their relation to each other, - all these go to make a combination which can readily be turned to good use where more graceful lines would not be in harmony with the surroundings. In cases where an expression of strength is desired, our plant might be excellently well employed ornamentally, to emphasize the functions of the constructive parts; and as it is strictly an American plant - a member of an exclusively American family - it will be appropriate in connection with any work of a national character.
The geographical distribution of this beautiful Phlox has not been fixed as definitely as it might have been by this time, considering; that it is limited to the older settled portions of our own country. We have already seen that it was found in North Carolina by Michaux, and in Georgia by Frazer. Drummond is credited with having found it "in the Alleghanies," but this certainly is not very definite. Mr. Peters is cited as an authority for the statement that it exists in Kentucky, and Prof. Wood says, "hillsides and mountains, Indiana to South Carolina." Dr. Chapman says, "damp, shady woods near Washington, Wilkes County, Georgia, and northward along the mountains"; a Dr. Gray, finally, gives in a general way, "clamp woods, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and southward." The local Floras rarely mention it. It is not in Willis' catalogue of New Jersey plants, nor in Beardslee's list for Ohio. Coleman reports it as occurring in Michigan, and in the "Botanical Gazette" he speaks of a white variety which he found at Grand Rapids, Iowa. We have seen that Prof. Wood gives Indiana as one of its locations, but it does not occur in any of the counties of which the Floras are given in the Geological Survey of that State. It evidently prefers to keep to high elevations, chiefly in southern ranges, and there it will probably be found most at home in cool, moist woods.
The time of flowering of the Phlox reptaus is given as May by some authors, and as June by others; while English writers, who, of course, speak of the plant only in its cultivated state, give it as from May to September. A good deal, no doubt, depends on the situation. In a warm, sunny spot its flowering time would perhaps be shortened. It does quite well in our gardens, however, and with proper attention it would probably become the parent of a very beautiful race. All the Phloxes are changeable, and this species is not likely to be an exception to the rule, as it shows some variations in color, even in its natural state. Some writers describe the flowers as rose, purple, or pale red, and a pure white variety is reported by Mr. Coleman, as before stated. Without a doubt, therefore, its capabilities for floral improvement must be very great.
As the plant is not frequent where the foot of man usually treads, it has not yet attracted general attention, and hence is still without a generally accepted common name. We must therefore be satisfied with the translation of its botanical name, "Crawling Phlox," as given by Dr. Darlington.