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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Flowers from Monte Motterone.

by Mrs. Dorman.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 247


Above and beyond the hillsides that slope steeply down to Baveno, rise far away the lofty crags and grassy summits of the Monte Motterone, 4890 feet in height, the great natural barrier between the lower part of Lago Maggiore and the small lake of Orta. The mountain-top consists of several bare grassy peaks dotted with chestnut-shaded chalets, that in early May will be alive with women and boys tending the cows and sheep that will ascend to this pleasant pasturage for the summer months. The vineyards climb up to them from Baveno, at least they climb as high as they can till the sweet chestnuts take their place, and on all this varied ground, terraced with gardens of grain and vegetables, planted with living supports of cherry and laburnum over which the vines may trail their long festoons, and watered by many a tiny rill, flowers without end may be found by those who care for them; these can begin with the daisies and buttercups and go up to the gentians and the Alpine soldanella, with many other delights in between. All through April there are primroses and cowslips, and they are not gone at the end of it; periwinkles too are there, but paler, as if the hot sun had forced them to yield up some of their colour. The daisies are not quite like English daisies, but without comparing them it would be difficult to say wherein lies the difference. The bog violets are just like our own, and along the watercourses osmunda is sending up fine strong fronds; beech-fern is abundant and beautiful, so are lady-fern and the two spleenworts; maiden-hair and wallrue fill up the crevices in rocks and walls, not to mention the dainty Cystopteris fragilis.

A pretty white-flowered cress lightens up the grass, and with it grows A juga reptans, more blue than ours at home, and haunted by lovely swallow-tail butterflies, who, to judge by their length of their visits, find its sweets very much to their taste. In open spaces, particularly on craggy hillocks, one comes upon bushes of a pretty shrubby plant belonging to the Rosacece, a kind of Cotoneaster, probably Mespilus pyracantha or M. amelanchier. Hedges are sometimes made of the Japanese orange, a desperately spiny tree that forms an impenetrable fence, and woe to the creature who tries to break through it! What may be the nature of these great thorns? are they metamorphosed stipules, or branches, or leaves? If the leafy specimen (a very young and immature one though) be examined with the lens, a miniature spine will be seen in the axil of each leaf, and inside that again a tiny bud which represents the future flower. It will be noted that each flower grows in the axil of a spine, so that this year's flowers are borne on last year's leafy branch. The flattened stalk of the trifoliate leaves shows its affinity with the orange, also the monadelphous stames and the ovary, as well as its delicious scent. A large tree in the garden has been the daily resort of insects of all kinds in search of the honey secreted at the base of the ovary.

The next specimen we find is also of the orange tribe; one may know it by the monadelphous stamens, the ovary, the scent, and the numerous oil glands in the leaves that give them the peculiar pungent and aromatic smell of the orange leaf. Amongst the Lugano flowers last month was a specimen of Ruscus aculeatus, and here is another species from Isola Madre called R. hippoglossum, common in Italy in woods and shady places. The flowers have a quaint little bract at their base, and they are borne indifferently upon the upper or under surface of the cladodes. The yellow broom is now coming into flower and also two other species of Genista, the one being, I think, G. germanica and the other G. pilosa. The first has pinnato-partite spines and the latter has none. Euphorbia palustris is a highly ornamental spurge. It is a tall handsome plant, and its graceful habit of growth and lively colouring make it look very attractive as it hangs over the irrigating sluices on the hillside. Solomon's Seal is now in plenty everywhere, and lilies of the valley are almost in flower.

Musari botrioides comes from Isola Madre, but I have found it nowhere else at present. It must be confessed that however delightful the preceding flowers may be, their attractions fade before those of the narcissus, gentians, and dog-tooth violets that follow them. Let Narcissus poeticus take precedence, if for no other reason than that it grows on lower slopes than the others. If these flowers were indeed, as the poet feigns, to "die of their own dear loveliness," one might almost be inclined to admit a justification for such an excess of self-admiration. But the narcissus is altogether sweet and pure. It crowds under the vines and the orchard trees just as its relative the daffodil does at home, and its scent, though too strong for a room is simply delicious in the open. At Orta also, where I am writing these lines, the grass is full of narcissus, and most delightful it is to sit down in such company and watch their pretty ways. It is interesting to note the many changes in position of the flower, from the first appearance of the scape until maturity. At first it is erect in its spathe, but as it grows and breaks through the paper-like sheath it bends gradually until it becomes horizontal. Then, as the perianth enlarges more and more, its head is bent downwards as if overweighted, and, finally, it rises again to an almost horizontal position, and you see its pretty creamy face, which soon bleaches to a snowy whiteness in the sunshine. The flower belongs to the Amaryllidaces, and has the corona that distinguishes that family. It is yellow with a scarlet edge, and is most delicately crimped. Three of the six stamens are higher than the other three, and their filaments are united with the tube of the corolla, except the smallest free end below the inwardly dehiscing anthers. The corona with its triangularly-set stamens and green three-lobed pistil, make a delightful bit of colour set in the centre of the snowy whiteness of the petals. Honey is secreted at the base of the long tube, and must, I think, be inaccessible to bees. The flower will probably be fertilized by butterflies or dusk-loving moths, for whom its whiteness and powerful scent seem specially adapted; I have seen butterflies alight on the flowers, but they did not feed, and though there are bees and humble-bees in plenty, they seem to pay their attentions to far less attractive flowers. This must be because their proboscides are too short for "Narcissus the fairest amongst them all." Gentiana araulis cannot be an exclusively Alpine flower though it lives upon the mountains, for although we first gathered it when we crossed over Monte Motterone to Orta, we have since then found it at much lower elevations, and where it is at home its flowers are produced as plentifully as field daisies. This gentian loves the grassy pastures beneath the chestnuts, where as yet there is no foliage to shade it from the sun, and no other flowers to compete with it except Polygala chamabuxus, whose clear whites and yellows contrast so charmingly with its own deep blue. What a flower this is in its native home! What intensity of colour, what beauty of form! Deep cups of blue spotted inside with black and green, their brims lobed and showing still the foldings of the unopened bud, they rise straight from the mossy sod, and that morning they seemed to us almost divine, it was sacrilege to do anything but worship. Yet after all we begin to "peep and botanize," and flowers are gathered to carry home for further enjoyment, as they last an immense time in water. The roots of the plant are fibrous, and as it has next to no stem the nondescript leaves are all radical. The flower stalk is furnished with a pair of lanceolate bracts united at the base. The calyx is in one piece, the five lobes would be distinct but for the thin white membrane that unites them. The five stamens are united to the corolla tube, but their filaments become free at about a third of its height. Their lower part makes a sort of buttress within the tube, and uniting around the ovary they form the only passages to the honey, which is secreted by five little green nectaries at its base. The pistil is green, and the two-lobed stigma is fringed. The anthers have very small appendages at the base and seem to twist during dehiscence. In the first stage of the flower the stigmas are within the anther tube and emerge during their dehiscence. I say the anther tube, for the anthers do really become united somehow, though, I suppose, not structurally. The ovary has two cells. I have not seen any insects visiting the flowers, but probably they will be fertilized by humble-bees.

Erythronium dens-canis, or the Dog-tooth violet, has a different habitat from that of the gentian. It is a somewhat frail delicate flower and seeks the shelter of the bilberry and juniper bushes on the mountain-side, for it cannot bear uninjured such a hot sun as the gentian seems to enjoy. It is a lovely plant, both leaf and flower, but I have not much to say about it, for although I made one drawing, my specimens faded all too soon for me. At first the flower droops its head, but later it becomes more horizontal and its petals spread out widely. It belongs to the Liliacea, and consequently its ovary is in a different relation to the corolla from that of the narcissus. I wish I knew the meaning of the white-grooved scales at the base of each petal. Perhaps they form apertures to reach the honey by.

Soldanella alpina is the last specimen. To our surprise we came upon a few plants near the summit of Monte Motterone, but they seemed to miss the snow, and did not seem as attractive as usual. It belongs to the primrose family and has five stamens. I made a rough sketch of the stamens and ovary, with its free central placentation, and there I must end; perhaps I may find Soldanella again some day. Arcangeli says the name is a diminutive of "soldo," the Italian half-penny, from the form of the leaves.