Welsh, Y Doddedig rudd. - French, Rossolis. - German, Sonnenthau. - Italian, Rugiada del sole. - Dutch, Sonne-daauw. - Spanish, Rociada. - Portuguese, Rossolina. - Russian, Tolneznaja trawa.
It is an axiom, that while every locality, every natural situation, has perceptible differences in the character of its several beauties, not one is desti-tute of beauty of some description:- beauty, per-haps, which may be totally invisible to the distant surveyor, to the careless passer-by, to the unenquir-ing observer; but which yet grows more and more upon our minds the more closely, and the more intelligently, we examine into it; the more earn-estly we seek to read in it the lessons which the Almighty Creator has "written for our learning" in every natural object which exists in His world, His earth, and His heavens.
How chilled, how desolate, become our feelings as we gaze on the sad monotony of some dreary swamp, or unwholesome morass. How monstrous, in their dark sterility, do they appear; and justly so; for it is just that whatever is left as an uncultivated blank when it should be tilled with laborious and unwavering care - whether it be in the moral or the physical world - should strike the heart with emotions of sorrow, or disgust. If, however, in-stead of contemplating the morass, as a whole - a thing which man's labour should displace - we ex-amine, with patient interest, into its fastnesses, we find that it nourishes things as bright and beautiful, in their particular way, as those of more favoured regions of the earth. There, amidst deli-cate forms innumerable, the sundew sparkles with ruby points, near emerald moss-tufts of a bril-liancy unsurpassed elsewhere; while, to complete this vegetable emulation of the gems of the mine, "the amethyst-like Pinguicula rears its transparent stalks," and almost eclipses, in all but scent, the much-loved violet.
The very curious appendages with which the leaves of the sundew are furnished, consisting of pellucid glands thickly scattered over the upper surface, and each exuding a sparkling dew-drop from its ruby tip, have given rise not only to the English name of sundew, but to the appellation of the plant in most countries; almost all its names, as will be seen by a reference to the synonymes given at the head of our description, signifying the same thing. The name assigned to it by our botanists is derived from the Greek, and simply means dew, but the Latin ros-solis is equivalent to the others, which are founded on an opinion - whether existing in fact, or not, I cannot tell - that these dew-drops only appear on the plant in the day-time, when the sun is above the horizon. Not so poetical is the name of "red-rot," by which it is distinguished in some of our rural districts, on account of its supposed share in the injurious effects experienced by sheep which feed on pastures such as it loves, but of which it is most pro-bably quite innocent, as it is, in itself, of a warm and stimulant nature, added to which it seems to be very doubtful whether sheep eat it It has, however, received the "bad namee," and shepherds are, I fear, just as unwilling as other men to acknowledge the injustice of a stigma of their own affixing, and their own invention.
These glandular hairs are frequently as long as the leaf itself; and as they fringe its edge and stand up on its surface, each exuding a tiny drop of a somewhat glutinous fluid, they give an aspect of great, but peculiar beauty to the whole plant; though this beauty is frequently, to a certain extent, marred by the effect produced by the number of dead insects with which they are spotted; for every unfortunate insect, or even fragment of broken grass, etc., which touches a leaf, is instantly rendered unable to quit it again, from the adhesive nature of the dew; and sometimes,too,the leaves maybe observed to shrink or fold inwards, as if more closely to entrap the luckless prisoner. I think, however, that, with regard to our British species, this sensible movement or contraction, has been somewhat over-rated. The leaves rarely, so far as I have seen, contract, unless a large number of animals, or particles of any other material, are attracted to its surface, and then the movement appears to be more like the result of shrivelling than of vegetable irritability, properly so called: in which case, it would evidently result from the too great absorption of the dewy secretion caused by so many adherent bodies.
I speak this with diffidence, well knowing how easily error creeps into such observations, and also how very rarely a naturalist will find that the deductions of those who most differ from him are, in reality, less accu-rate than his own, so seldom can individual exami-nation include all possible circumstances and all ac-cidents of time or season. This much, however, I can confidently advance, that when the leaves do, as described, contract, they present a flaccid and decidedly shrivelled appearance; and that gradu-ally, as a fresh supply of moisture is secreted, they resume their natural position, and the plumper ap-pearance of their somewhat fleshy substance. Yet at the same time we must not lose sight of the fact, that the Droseraceae are a pre-eminently irritable family, numbering amongst them, as they do, the celebrated Venus's fly-trap (Dioncea muscipula), which folds its leaves together if their glandular hairs-be but touched.
The sundew, or at least the round-leaved species (D. rotundifolia), has another very beautiful pecu-liarity, and one which is full of poetical "suggestive-ness;" the delicate little flower-buds are racemed, and but one blossom opens at a time - that is to say, as the raceme gradually rises, the bud which is at the apex of that portion of it which has become up-right unfolds itself to the sun from which it takes its name; but if the sun do not shine forth on the day on which the flower is ready to expand, it never opens at all; on the following day another bud has reached the apex of the scape, like the last, to unfold at the right moment or to perish, and give way in turn to the succeeding bud. If we take up, say the "British Flora" of Sir W. J. Hooker, and read this fact as a mere botanical occurrence, it is impossible not to gaze with interest on the phe-nomenon; but if we make it "point a moral," how much significance it acquires. How many an earnest, yet too weakly shrinking a mind, has been wrecked, because some one amongst its fellows has not been prompt to seize the fitting moment for ac-tion or support.
How many an opportunity has been lost, never to be regained, which, if we had but com-manded strength enough to embrace, might per-chance have saved from hopeless ruin some heart as upright as, though perchance less firm than, our own. How many a life has been saddened - nay, blighted, by the recollection that greater promptitude on our own parts might have saved some noble nature, which it was "but that once" in our power to do; or how some momentary relaxation on our parts of self-control has caused some over-sensitive, and it may be, morbidly-conscientious spirit, to shrink into itself, never again to unfold the aspirations or en-quiries which, if fostered by the blessed sunshine of a kind and tender spirit, at that moment, might have led it unchangeably, to the better way! Would that all amongst us were Nature's pupils, and that every student of nature treasured up his knowledge of the secrets of the blossoming of the sundew in his very inmost heart, making its teachings ever active agents in his conduct, in all his dealings with his fellow men; making it, as it aptly might be made, a perpetual memento of all which constitutes true charity; true, and God-like, love!
Were it so the sundew had, indeed, not been created in vain: it had, indeed, done us "true ser-vice." But it has other and more material uses, and to these we must now turn our attention. In former days it was used by thrifty dairy-maids for the purpose of curdling milk, for it would appear - I write, how-ever, in perfect ignorance of the fact - as if the more-easily obtained stomach of a calf, which now forms almost the only rennet used, were rather a modern application, so many records are there of the different plants formerly used in this way. The sundew is acrid and caustic in its nature, and is said to burn away warts and corns; it was also much valued of yore as a cosmetic; I know not whether from any sup-posed relationship to the celebrated may-dew, which was once so carefully collected by maidens whose lot was cast, perhaps, rather in the age of Roland the Brave, than of him of the "Kalydor." We must suppose, however, that it was applied with considerable caution to the faces of these by-gone, or would-be, beauties, as it is well known to possess blistering qualities; and in the days of Gerarde, it was commonly used as a counter-irritant. This quaint old author makes the sundew a vehicle in which to convey a rather sly assertion of the com-parative value of theory and practice, telling us, that "the later physitiones haue thought it to be a rare and singular remedie for consumption;" and adding, "but the use thereof dothe otherwise teache." I cannot, however, but acknowledge (though I do not enter into the merits of the question), that he is very much to be suspected of judging by pre-conceived generalities, as he immediately weakens his satire by affirming that "reason sheweth the contrarie, being of such a hot and biting nature;" alluding, I imagine, to the sundew, and not to reason.
This is the plant of which Burton, in his "Ana-tomie of Melancholy," says that " Bernardus Penot-tus prefers his herba solis before all the rest (of herbs) in this disease (melancholy), and will admit of no herb upon the earth to be comparable to it. It excells Horner's moly, cures this, falling sickness, and almost all other infirmities".
The sundew was formerly much used as a tinc-ture, to obtain which, it was distilled with wine, and then spiced and sweetened. In this way a most-stimulating spirit was produced; and the plant is still employed in the manufacture of the Italian liqueur called "rossoli." Several of the Droseras, which are widely distributed throughout temperate climates, possess dyeing properties, as may be remarked in our own three species, D. anglica, rotun-difolia, and longifolia, which not only produce a deep red impression on the back of the sheet of paper on which they are placed in drying, but will communicate it to a thickness of several contiguous sheets; and for years afterwards will stain fresh ones placed in contact with it.