This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Mr. Hill, the Government botanist of Brisbane, Australia, having reached his sixtieth year, retires from the charge of the Botanic Garden, under the civil service rules of that part of the world. But he does not retire from useful life. He has by this time started on a botanical exploration to Mount Lindsay, after which he will explore the line of the Johnstone. Mr. Hill made valuable botanical discoveries in these districts twenty-five years ago, but much more may probably be done in those lines yet. Meehan's Flora of the United States.* - [So many of the readers of the Gardener's Monthly have taken such a warm, personal interest in this work by its editor, that we have ventured to introduce to them the following review from the London Morning Post, of April 9th: - Ed. G. M.]
*The Native blowers and Ferus of the United States in their Botanical. Horticultural and Popular Aspects. By Thomas Meehan, Professoror Vegetable Physiology to the Pennsylvania Board of Agriculture. First series. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Robson & Co. London: Arthur Ackermann.
Apart from the gain to science involved in a thorough exposition by a qualified hand of the flora of any particular country, there is no surer, and, at the same time, simpler, agent of mental refreshment than the study of those wild growths which, even in the barrenest and most forbidden regions, appear at times to delight the eye and elevate the soul. Even an unintelligent appreciation of the beauty of flower, or fern, or grass, carries with it something of a softening influence, and in how great a measure must the educational value of the feeling be increased when the admiring eye bears company to understanding examination of plants (which at first perhaps attracted only by their beauty or quaintness) as regards their habits, properties and associations? An author who enables his fellow-countrymen to taste of these elegant pleasures is doing a truly patriotic work, of which it is difficult to over estimate the value; consequently too much praise cannot be awarded to Professor Meehan for the work of which these two splendid volumes form the first series. It is in point of fact a most successful attempt to do for the indigenous flowers and ferns of the United States what Annie Pratt, in a more restricted sphere, has done so well for Great Britain, but in a far more sumptuous manner.
It may be mortifying to national vanitv, but is none the less a plain truth, that we cannot compete with our Transatlantic cousins in the production of chromolithographs; those with which these volumes are adorned have been executed by the renowned firm of Messrs Prang & Co., of Boston, from the paintings from nature of Mr. Alois Lunzer, who it may be said en passant, must be an artist of singularly delicate and poetic feeling. As for the reproductions, they are simply the most perfect specimens of the process we have ever seen; it is difficult in some instances to believe that the eye is not resting upon a good hand-painting, especially when, for the sake of throwing the coloring into higher relief a faintly-tinted paper has been used for the background; excellent examples of the truth of this statement will be found in the first volume in the drawings of Euphorbia corollata, Calla palustris, or Sedum Nevii, or even better still in the two loveliest plates of vol. ii., viz., Ipomoea lacunosa and Andromeda mariana. In this last named the texture or the wax-like bells is marvellous. It would be possible to dwell for hours on these illustrations, but we must refer to Professor Meehan's more immediate portion of the work.
It appears from the preface that he had originally entertained the stupendous idea of a work which should treat exhaustively of the entire flora of the United States, and had even gone so far as to issue a prospectus of the undertaking, but calm reflection showed that, apart from the necessarily eclectic nature of the public to which such a work would appeal, its actual completion in systematic fashion would be a task greater than any man could reasonably hope to accomplish in a lifetime. The idea was accordingly modified, and the present most valuable contribution to botanical literature is the result, containing, as it will do when complete, a careful selection from the innumerable flowering plants and herbs peculiar to the United States, not restricted to any particular district, but ranging over the wide region between Canada and Mexico from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores. It must not be supposed that the work is addressed exclusively to those who make a scientific study of botany; although the technical matter is in each case thoroughly good and trustworthy it is enlivened by poetical quotations, by references to mythological tales bearing on the name or history of any particular plant, and even by occasional scraps of folk-lore, though here, as might have been anticipated from an American author dealing with plants most of them unknown to the elder races, the notices are more rare.
For instance, in the mention of vervain, its traditional employment as a charm against witchcraft is passed in silence, and without mention of Meg Merriles' rhyme, although the old religious chant anent its healing properties is quoted. On the other hand, an ingenious derivation is suggested for the popular name of "ladies tresses" as applied to Spiranthes cernua - that is, that the latter word is a corruption of "braces," the old English term for the silken bodice fastenings which the plant so closely resembles. Whilst on the subject of names, one or two other instances may not impertinently be cited. Professor Meehan confesses himself baffled as to the derivative meaning of "Rose," and inclines to the idea that the name, with its Greek and Latin equivalents rhodon and rosa, may be referable to some early word signifying red, the typical color of the flower. Much more probably, however, all alike have their origin in an early Aryan root-form, meaning simply flower, i. e., the flower par eminence. We shall find such a form existing amongst the primary words of the Romany tongue, which are indubitably Prakrit, as rosho, with this identical meaning.
Again, it is puzzling, as the author remarks, to understand why the pretty little Houstonia coerulea should have acquired the name of "bluets," which is. of course, the French name for the common bluebottle (Centaurea Cyanus), which the plant in no way resembles. It is not quite correct, by the by, to identify the harebell with the wild hyacinth or English bluebell; it is in reality a campanula; but, unlike the bluebell of Scotland, each stem supports only a single flower, and the habitat of the plants is somewhat different, which may possibly be owing to the divergence in growth. The author draws attention to the great adaptability to decorative design of the leaves of Geum triflorum, or three-flowered avens. The truth of this must at once strike every one with an artistic eye, and the remark might be wisely extended to several other plants represented in these volumes, such as, to mention only two or three examples, Thalictrum dioicum (early meadow rue), Limnanthemum lacunosum (floating heart), or Calla palustris (bog arum), which last, especially, with its thick glossy leaves and snowy flowers, would be most effective in mural decoration. Those who practice this now fashionable art would do well when in search of fresh designs to glance over Mr. Lunzer's drawings.
It is interesting to notice the connection between some of the flowers here represented and cognate members of the same families familiar to us from childhood; and one cannot but feel a little compassion for our cousins, on reflecting how many of our oldest favorites they lack, to think that, except under cultivation, they have neither daisies, primroses, pansies nor tulips, that ivy is almost unknown to them, and that, as the present author testifies, their violets have little or no scent. Who would willingly give up any of these "wildings of Nature" for the most gorgeous of foreign blooms? Professor Meehan touches more than once upon the rather common and decidedly utilitarian theory that the only use of color is to attract insects; and those who are simple enough to believe that the Allwise and Beneficent Power may have had some broader object in the work of Creation than the bare providing against extinction of particular vegetable forms, will be glad to see that it evidently meets with but small approval; that the author, in fact, is disposed to agree with the "good thinkers" who maintain that "mere beauty is as essential as the more material things of life." It has been a real feast to the eye, as well as to the understanding, to go through these beautiful volumes, and the only feeling in closing them is one of impatience for the completion of the work.
The book is one which nobody should miss an opportunity of inspecting.