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.
Smooth and pale or glaucous; 1 to 2 feet high; leaves all with general petioles ; leaflets drooping, rounded, and 3- to 7-lobed ; flowers purplish and greenish ; the yellowish anthers linear, mucronate, drooping on fine capillary filaments. (Gray's Manual of Botany of the Northern States. See also Torrey & Gray's Flora of United States, Chapman's Flora of the Southern States, Wood's Class-Book of Botany, etc.)
ODERN botanists have been puzzled to account for the derivation of the name Thalictrum. Sir William Hooker supposed it might be from the Greek word thallo, signifying "green" or "luxuriant"; but those who have succeeded him tell us it is of "obscure derivation." Pliny refers to a plant known in his time as Thcilictrum, and it is not unlikely that our present botanical name is identical with this old Roman name (the c in the modern appellation being simply a misprint for c), although the latter is said to have belonged to a plant with some reputation as an "all-heal," while none of the species have any medical virtues, with the exception of perhaps one, which was used as a plaster in some forms of rheumatism and similar troubles, until superseded by Arnica. Many an old name has been adopted by the moderns on a still more slender foundation. The common name is "Meadow -Rue," from a fancied resemblance in the leaves to the common garden herb of this name, with "Meadow' as indicating the places in which it loves to grow. The Meadow-Rue proper, however, is one of the European forms, while our species is a denizen of woods or partially shaded places. It stows in the Atlantic States from Canada to North Carolina, and, according to Torrcy and Gray, westward to Oregon. Several very closely allied species grow in the Rocky Mountains.
This - the Early Meadow-Rue - has no brilliant colors to recommend it, but its graceful foliage always attracts the early spring-flower gatherer, by whom it is made to do duty for ferns in the ornamental arrangement of the gathered treasures. It is, however, not without interest to the closer student. The sexes are on separate plants in most of the American species, while the European branches of the family have hermaphrodite flowers. These facts have acquired great interest for the botanist since the publication of Mr. Darwin's works. Where the flowers are dioecious, - that is, having the male flowers on one plant and the female on another, - the latter, of course, can only be fertilized by the pollen from a distinct individual, and this would be regarded by Mr. Darwin as so much in favor of the vigor and powers of endurance of the progeny. It might be instructive to students to examine how far inferior the hermaphrodite forms may be in these respects. At first sight it would seem that the hermaphrodite forms of Europe have succeeded just as well, in the struggle for life, as the dioecious ones of this continent; but this should be made the subject of direct examination, for the faithful student of nature takes nothing for granted until he has the facts in detail before him.
The most showy plants are not always the most interesting. They may have beauty and yet teach little. Plain-looking plants, on the contrary, may be very instructive, and this is the case with the Early Meadow-Rue.
In many plants there arc leafy appendages at the base of the leaves, called stipules. In general they appear as if they were small leaves, and in a measure distinct from the main leaf. In the class of plants now described there are appearances at the base of the leaves somewhat similar, but they are formed by the flattened and expanded base of the leaf itself. These are not considered stipules by botanists, but are called "dilated petioles." They, however, serve the same purposes as true stipules, and when structural botany shall have been more closely investigated, they may be found to have a similar origin. In our Early Meadow-Rue this spreading out of the base is beautifully illustrated, extending as it does all around, and giving the stem the appearance of having grown through it. Another interesting lesson is derived from watching the development of the flowers up from the leaves through all their stages, and the comparison of the facts as they appear separately in the male and female stalks. Taking our female illustration (Fig. 1), we see that the slender stem bearing the panicle of flowers is but a continuation of the main stalk. If it had been stronger, the branchlets of the panicle, instead of being flowers, would have been leaves or branchlets. A sudden retardation of growth has made flowers of what would otherwise have been leaves. In the lower branch-let, indeed, we see a small leaflet, the arrestation not having been quick enough to make a flower of it. This affords a good illustration of the morphological law, - that the parts of the inflorescence are only leaves and branches modified. But there is still another lesson taught here. By turning to the male flowers (Fig. 2) we see a much greater number of bracts or small leaves scattered through the panicle, and find the pedicels longer than in the female; and this shows a much slighter effort a less expenditure of force - to be required in forming male than female flowers. A male flower, as we see clearly here, is an intermediate stage between a perfect leaf and a perfect, or we may say, a female flower. It seems as if there might be as much truth as poetry in the expression of Burns, "Her 'prentice han' she tried on man, An' then she made the lasses, O," at least in so far as the flowers are concerned, and in the sense of a higher effort of vital power.
The Early Meadow-Rue is hardly showy enough for the flower garden, but those who like elegant foliage might find a place for it in some half-shaded corner. It will not be found at all difficult to grow.
1. Stalk with female flowers.
2. Stalk with male flowers.
3. Female flower, showing the separate pistils.
4. Male flower with perfect stamens.