(Plate LXXX III.)
White or pink deepening into red.
Inland and middle states.
Flowers: terminal; axillary; growing in rich umbel-like clusters. Calyx: of five sepals; clammy and covered with hairs. Corolla: wheel-shaped; fivelobed. Stamens: ten; the anthers of each one held by a depression of the corolla. Pistil: one. Leaves: alternate; elliptical; entire; evergreen and shiny. Stem: ten to thirty feet high; woody.
All flowers are lovely, but the beauty of the laurel has placed it where it stands quite alone; and by many lovers of flowers it is thought to be the most beautiful of those native to America. It is also endeared to us by its many virtues. It is very domestic, and has a strong love for its own home. Its mind is blessed with a rare contentment. In fact, it will seldom endure transplanting; unless care has been taken to provide for it soil of the same quality as that of its chosen groves.
The construction of the flower is on the plan of a wheel, and the stamens correspond to the spokes. Each filament is held and slightly arched by the anther, which is caught in a pouch of the corolla. The device of this little trap is most ingenious and the mechanism very fine. It is set for Master Bee and patiently awaits his coming. When he brushes against it, or jostles it the least little bit, the anthers become dislodged, spring up and let fly from their cells right in his face, or over his back, such a volley of pollen that the poor, old, drowsy thing is quite disconcerted. Thinking himself inhospitably received, he then betakes himself to the next flower, only to find that his back is made heavier by another cargo of pollen, while the protruding stigma is busy relieving him of his first load. The clamminess of the calyx and stems is undoubtedly to prevent such small insects as would be unable to carry the pollen for cross-fertilization, from climbing up into the flower and interfering with its arrangements.
Children that are in sympathy with the bees know of this trap, and will invariably knock the blossoms with their little fingers for the pure pleasure of seeing the anthers spring up and the pollen fly. As yet, the bees have not taught them the after labour of carrying the pollen.
The leaves of the plant are unfortunately poisonous. A crystalline substance that is readily dissolved out of them by cold water, is said to be more deadly than strychnine. Cattle and sheep fall victims annually to eating the shrub. Unprincipled people have also made use of the leaves to increase the intoxicating effect of liquors.
Long ago the red man knew of this poison. It was dear to him. For when he became unhappy, it lulled him into the long sleep, and hastened his footsteps to his happy hunting ground.