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.
Leaves oblong, mucronate, paler and scurfy beneath, the floral ones oval; flowers in the axils of the upper leaves, small, white; calyx-lobes ovate, acute. Varies with the leaves and calyx-lobes narrower, when it is the Andromeda angustifolia of Pursh. (Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States. See also (nay's Manual of the Botany of the Southern United States, and Wood's Class-Booh of Botany.)
THE natural order Ericaceae, to which Cassandra belongs, is so called from Erica, or the well-known Heath of Europe and the Cape of Good Hope. It was for a long time believed that no true Heath was a native of the American continent. A distinguished botanist of the past age, Barton, wrote: "Not a single species of Erica is to be met with in this great country; but in place of the 'blooming heather,' Nature has liberally supplied our country with various species of Andromeda, Vaccinium, etc., not to mention other genera which are nearly allied to Erica." Since Barton's time, however, one true Heath has been discovered in the Northeast in a very few localities; but it is so rare that Barton's remark may be accepted as practically correct. The species now called Cassandra, as well as several other genera, were all included in Andromeda in Barton's time; but in 1834, this latter genus was rearranged by D. Don. Those, therefore, who wish to examine closely the literature of our plant will have to look for it under the name of Andromeda calyculata in all works issued prior to the date just mentioned. Don's divisions are generally accepted now by botanists, although some of them have very few species. In the case of our plant, there is but the single one, although two are generally described in European works; but it will be seen by the description we have adopted at the head of our chapter from Chapman, that American botanists regard the two as one.
Cassandra differs from the true Andromedas, particularly in the stigmas and in the anther-cells. These cells are elongated in Cassandra, but are short in Andromeda, which latter also has a truncated stigma, while the stigma of Cassandra is ring-like, with a five-tubercled disk. There are other differences; and a very striking one is the absence of small bractlets under the regular, five-cleft calyx in Andromeda, while there are constantly two under the calyx of Cassandra.
As the early history of Cassandra is connected with Andromeda, we may as well stop here to say a few words about the latter name. Andromeda, as Grecian mythology informs us, was the daughter of King Cepheus, of Ethiopia. Being proud of her beauty, she boasted that she was handsomer than even the Nereids, whereat these envious damsels became so enraged that they petitioned Neptune to avenge their wounded feelings. The god accordingly not only devastated the realms of Cepheus by inundations, but also sent a terrible sea-monster, which devoured men and beasts indiscriminately. The oracle of Amnion having announced that these plagues would not cease until the offender had been thrown to the monster, the people compelled their king to chain his daughter to a rock on the sea-coast. In this situation Perseus, who had just cut off the head of the Medusa, found Andromeda, and of course delivered and afterwards married her.
The great Swedish naturalist, Linnaeus, came across a plant, in the wilds of Lapland, growing under circumstances which suggested this ancient story to his mind, and he accordingly named it Andromeda polifolia. Anything connected with Linnaeus always pleases those who love wild flowers; and in this anecdote, especially, we seem to be made a sharer of his own thoughts, and are given an insight into his deeper nature which few other anecdotes afford. It shows him as a man of fine, poetic feelings amidst all the details of science, which to some people seem to be intolerably dry, and mere matters of fact Whenever we look at our pretty Cassandra, this incident in the life of Linnaeus is recalled to our mind by association with the earlier name of the plant, and we are tempted to invest the incident itself with a personality, and say in the language of Campbell:"I love you for lulling me back into dreams Of the blue northern mountains and echoing streams,
And of birchen glades breathing their balm, While the deer was seen glancing in sunshine remote, And the deep, mellow crush of the wood-pigeon's note Made music that sweetened the calm."
When Don divided the botanical genus Andromeda, as before mentioned, he gave to our plant the name of Cassandra, still following up the fancy so prettily started by Linnceus. According to Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, the last king of Troy, by Hecuba, one of his wives, - for the old man was a bad polygamist, - and the literal meaning of the name is said to be, " She who inflames with love." The original Cassandra is described as a prophetess, or perhaps a poetess, - little distinction being made between the two in those days, - and her connection with the tragic fate of Agamemnon will be remembered by all. But there appears to be no special reason for giving the name of Cassandra to this particular plant, beyond the desire to adhere to the mythological nomenclature suggested by Linnaeus.
Our plant is often in flower before the snows have fairly gone. Indeed, it is not difficult for it to do this, as the flower-buds are well advanced before the winter sets in, as shown by our Fig. 1, which was drawn from a specimen gathered in December. A few days of warm sunshine are sufficient to develop the flowers to perfection.
The leaves of Cassandra calyadata are very interesting when placed under a lens. The numerous small veins make a sort of net, or rather lace-work, of great beauty, and on these little veins arc seen small resinous dots in great numbers, generally three or four times more numerous on the under than on the upper surface. It is not known whether they are of any advantage to the plant as an individual, or whether they are simply of use in that general order of nature which makes all things work together for good. The plant is an evergreen, though with the incoming of winter the lower leaves take on the roseate hue depicted in our plate. As the pretty little waxen-white flowers become perfectly developed, they droop upon their delicately slender stems, and make a pretty wand-like spray, which is really beautiful, and well worthy of study by the devotees of art. In very delicate ornamentation, as in the more precious metals, there are many opportunities for using our plant as a model to great advantage. Even dried specimens, provided they have been dried rapidly, and under great pressure, can be so arranged as to form very pretty wreath-frames for enclosing shells, or similar mementos, or can be made into ornaments of various other kinds.
Dr. Gray gives our plant the common name of "Leather-leaf," but we find no reason anywhere given for this name. Its botanical name, Cassandra, ought to be pretty enough to insure general adoption.
The Cassandra is a native of Northern Europe and Asia, as well as the United States, but it is remarkable that, while it is rather common from Canada to North Carolina, it is not found west of the Mississippi River. It is extremely common in the barrens of New Jersey, whence we drew our illustration.
1. Branch with buds in December.
2. branch in flower in March.