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 somewhat hairy and winged above, four to eight feet high; leaves alternate or the lower opposite, oblong or ovate-lancelate, pointed at both ends; heads in an open corymbed panicle; scales of the involucre in two rows, the outer linear-spatulate reflexed; rays four to ten, irregular; achenia broadly winged; receptacle globular. (Gray's Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. See also Chapman's Flora of the Southern United States and Wood's Class-Booh of Botany.)
THE species which we now illustrate is not one that will attract by its beauty, if by beauty we understand mere color. But to the true lover of nature, or to the botanical student, it will be acceptable, for there are few which are so instructive, or which afford so many lessons. The plants called Umbelliferae, such as the carrot, parsnip, celery, and so on, are nearly related to the Composites, of which our plant is a representative. Yet we must look at these two orders in the light of morphological law to see the relationship; for in general appearance they are so different that it has been found necessary to place them somewhat widely apart in the systematic classification of the orders. When we examine a plant of the umbelliferous order, we see that the flower is composed of five distinct petals, and of five stamens, each of which is likewise separate and distinct from the other; but in the flowers of the Compositae the normal five-petalled corolla is united into a tubular one, and the anthers are also united together by their edges, so that the pistil, as it grows, has to push through the united mass. Now morphology teaches us that all the parts of a plant are normally leaf-blades, and that from the various degrees of union or of separation, the degree of individualization or consolidation of these original parts, result the different characters which arc exhibited by the different parts of a plant. And we can see by studying such plants as the one we are describing that not only is this true of individual plants, but that differences between species, genera, and orders depend on the same laws of individualization and cohesion, or on the varying degrees of rapidity with which development takes place. An umbelliferous plant is simply a Composite, with less tendency to an arrestation of its axial growth, and a consequent union of parts. The seeds of Composites often have so great a resemblance to the seeds of umbelliferous plants that it is difficult to distinguish the order by them alone. The seeds or "achenes" of the present species greatly resemble those of the parsnip, and of similar umbelli-fers, in the broad marginal wing on the edges, as seen in the half-mature achene in Fig. 2, and its cross section Fig. 3, and this resemblance is peculiarly conspicuous when the seed is ripe.
In old times Actinomeris was thought to belong to Coreopsis, and as a member of this genus the first species known to Europeans is therefore described by Willdenow. Nuttall, however, showed that it is much more nearly related to the Helianthus or Sunflower, although there are many points of difference between the two, the one which will strike the most casual observer being the small number of the ray-petals, as already noted. The principal flower on our plate is represented with eleven rays, but this is unusual; six, and often only four, being found much more frequently. The name of the genus, Actinomeris, is based on this fact, aktiu being Greek for "ray," and meris for "part," the compound thus signifying that the flowers are only "partly rayed."
We may sometimes notice a regular current of air moving in the atmosphere with scarcely any apparent vibration of its wave, while at other times the current is extremely fitful, - now calm and flowing in one direction, now violent and coming in gusts from "all ways at once." The same varying waves can be noticed in the growth-currents of plants, and in this species we have an illustration of the fitful current. We see that the growth-force still retained considerable power in the first effort at forming a flower-bud in the axil of the lowest leaf, and that but little of this power was diverted to advance the reproductive development. The next bud in the series started with a good amount of growth-force, but was suddenly arrested, and the growth-force being converted into reproductive force at this point, the result was that the flowers here formed were stronger, and therefore opened sooner than those in the axil below, which had been produced by a weaker developing power. The next wave after this vigorous arrest moved slowly, and resulted, at the next bract, in a very weak head of flowers; but before its final arrest the growth-force again gathered more strength, and a much stronger cluster was therefore the last achievement of its activity. The student can thus trace the fitfulness of the growth-wave through the whole development of the plant. We see it distinctly in the leaves, which sometimes appear in threes, sometimes opposite, and sometimes alternate, all on the same plant. Our Fig. 4 is a part of the stem with an opposite pair of leaves, while the bracts on the flower-branch, Fig. 1, are alternate. The leaves run down below the point of junction with the stem, or, as the botanists say, they are decurrent, and this gives the stem a four-angled appearance, with green, leafy wings on the angles.
There are several species of Actinomeris. The present one, A. squarrosa, has been long known, and is described by Linnaeus as Coreopsis altcrnifolia. As a cultivated plant, it has been in English gardens for perhaps two hundred and fifty years, and it must have been among the first of our native flowers to make the acquaintance of the botanists of the Old World.
In Actinomeris sqtiarrosa the specific or last name signifies jagged or spreading, in reference to the spreading tips of the involucral scales. Not having attracted much popular attention, it seems to have gained no common name.
The geography of this species is of peculiar interest. It seems to be confined to an inland strip of country, but why it has not extended farther north and east is a problem. Most of our botanists give Western New York as its eastern boundary. It was included in Torrey's catalogue of the plants of New Jersey, but this was supposed to be an error. In recent years, however, it has certainly been found at Paterson and at Mont Clair in that State, according to Willis and the "Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club/' It is found in Pennsylvania, occasionally up to the Delaware River, near Philadelphia, but has not crossed. Chapman says it grows in Florida and northward to North Carolina; but its great home-centre seems to be in Ohio, Michigan, and the adjoining Southwestern States. Thence it is more sparingly found, until it loses itself in the deserts of Western Kansas and Nebraska. As other species are found in the Southwest, we shall probably have to look in that direction for its genetic home.
Our plant commences to bloom rather early for an autumnal flower, but its blossoms are continued far into the fall of the year. As we have before said, it was introduced many years ago into English gardens, although it seems to be rare there now, and we know of no attempt to cultivate it in our own country. It is by no means a showy plant, but still it deserves a place in the flower borders of the real lover of nature, on account of the many valuable lessons it teaches, some of which we have briefly alluded to. It seems to be a great favorite with certain coleopterous insects, which seek out and greedily devour the flowers, although there may be an abundance of others to feed on.
1. Part of a flower-stalk.
2. Achene, half mature, with two divergent calyx-teeth.
3. Cross section of the same.
4. Portion of flower-stalk from about midway, showing a pair of opposite leaves, which it sometimes produces.