The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Month of Fruits

by Dr. J. E. Taylor, F.L.S., &c., Editor of "Science Gossip."
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 520

[John Ellor Taylor (1837-1895) was F.L.S. (Fellow of the Linnean Society of London) and F.G.S. (Fellow of the Geological Society of London) Initials on Wikipedia]

The tide of summer life is still at the flood, except that the birds are all but voiceless. Some, like the cuckoo and the nightingale, have either left or are leaving us. Others have changed their notes, and utter only alarm cries to their young. The yellowhammers are mounting the highest twigs of the hedgerows and warbling their monotonous but breezy summer cry. The skylarks twitter rather than sing. The swallows and martins are having a busy time of it, for their nests are full of ravenous young. The number of insects caught by the parents of one nestful in the course of a day must be legion. One of the chief injuries inflicted by the ubiquitous sparrows is that they drive these insectivorous birds away. It is very certain that swallows and martins are not so abundant now as they were twenty-five years ago.

These birds represent the very spirit of energy. They are the nearest approach to the embodiment of perpetual motion yet made by a living organism. Eighteen hours out of the twenty-four (or thereabouts) they are on the wing, flying at the rate of an express railway train. No wonder these birds possess the highest blood temperature of all living creatures. They live at physical "high-pressure" pitch. Watch them glide and soar and hover! Now they skim the air like a glissade, or swoop from high overhead to the level of your feet, and then there is a sudden twinkle of metallic bluish-black. When insects are particularly abundant the atmosphere is full of swallow twitter. Each bird calls to the other as they criss-cross in their aerial waltzes.

The ingathering of the harvest is a goodly sight, but nevertheless a sad one. We feel that the glory of the summer is departing. The vast extent of stubble fields is not beautiful. Nevertheless, whilst the harvest lasts, the sight is a cheerful and even a merry one. The air is filled with human voices. The rich sheaves standing in the fields, or being carted thence, proclaim how faithfully the old covenant concerning "seed-time and harvest" has been fulfilled.

The orchards are a noble sight. What more beautiful spectacle in the world is there than an apple tree laden with ripened fruit? Fruit is now ripening everywhere, and the entomologist takes advantage of that which has fallen to the ground, and is rotting there, to make some good insect captures. Some of our most gaudy and pretty butterflies, such as the red admiral and the painted lady, are very fond of over-ripe fruit.

The ivy is now in bloom. Its flowers are green and almost inconspicuous, but theymake up for this by secreting an extra quantity of honey over and above other flowers. Butterflies and moths, as well as other insects, are perfectly aware of this fact, and visit the ivy blossom accordingly, as all entomologists know.

What with ripe fruit and abundant flowers, there is no wonder that a sunny and hot August should witness such a gathering of lepidopterous clans as is not seen during any other month of the year. There is more than abundant work for young entomologists now. Moreover, the holidays are on, and our youthful Nimrods are abroad, green net in hand, and vasculum on back. This is the month when they can capture the elegant wood-white butterfly, the pretty green-veined, the rarer and even prettier Bath butterfly, the clouded yellow and pale yellow, the Queen of Spain, pearl-bordered and small pearl-bordered fritillarys, the large tortoiseshell, red admiral, Scotch ringlet, wood argus, green hair-streak, small heath, nearly all the "blues" and "skippers."

Moths are even more abundant. Indeed, August is particularly the month for moth-hunting, and young entomologists can resort to "sugaring" at night with much success. The hawk-moths may now be captured, such as the convolvulus, elephant, madder, silver-striped, oleander, poplar, and privet. Notice the extraordinaryl length of their coiled-up proboscis, and how it can be easily uncoiled whilst these insect are "hovering" (like the hawk, from which they derive their popular name) over deep-throated flowers. The proboscis is then thrust down the flower tubes to where the honey is secreted. All the hawk moths are intensely interesting on account of being specially adapted to visit specially-modified flowers.

Now is the time to hunt up the orange swift, the scarce muslin, the different species of "footmen," the ruby tiger, black arches, lackey, oak eggar, purple thorn, grass eggar, scalloped oak, waved umber, lace border, barred red, bordered grey, autumnal, clouded border, burnet, the "carpets," maple, swallow, alder, pebble, and a vast host of other moths. The pretty little sulphur moths are abundant along the hedge-rows, on which they were fed when caterpillars. The plume or feathered moths are numerous in summer lanes. Their wings are split up into five or six plumes, whence their name. They frequently fly in the day time, but never far, and then they resemble so many thistle-downs floating in the air. Moreover, they not only mimic the shape of thistle-down, but also its peculiar kind of flight. More than two hundred and fifty species of English moths are on the wing during the month of August!

All this means that vast numbers of flowers must be abroad, for neither moth nor butterfly can take food other than in the liquid form--that is, as honey. The great sacramental table is spread for them everywhere--in the green lanes, the greening meadows; by lake and marsh, river and stream; on the hillside and the bleak mountain top; by the seashore and the barren sand dunes! Wherever His creatures are gathered together, there is He in their midst, and that to bless them! It is only by thus feeding the insects (as He feeds His lambs) that the world's floral garments are renewed year after year in their everlasting beauty.

Just now, it is a perfect joy to ramble by a river side. The water is margined by walls of bulrush (Arundo phragmitis)--the same species you see along the Nile, in which Moses was hidden. Its tall purplish flower-spikes contrast gracefully with the strong green of the magnificient leaves. It forms a splendid background for the rich and abundant pink blossoms of willow-herbs, purple loosestrife (most botanically classic of British flowers, for it was in their different-lengthed stamens and pistils that Darwin discovered trimorphism), the paler and more subdued clustered flower-heads of hemp agrimony, the creamy-white and almost too powerfully scented meadow-sweet, the singular flowers of fig-wort (type of perhaps the most remarkable order of plants in the world, Scrophulariaceae) These are perhaps intertwined with the noble leaves and nobler white chalice-shaped flowers of the great bind-weed (Calystegia), and the reflection of this water garden in the still water which duplicates it makes a river-side ramble to a lover of nature something to "live up to."

Even the much-pastured meadows through which the river winds are not without a special late summer beauty. What foreign cinerarias come up to the common rag-wort (Senecio jacobea) now ornamenting them in dense patches? Their composite flower-heads are perhaps the purest yellow in nature. Perhaps an examination of these plants will reveal the presence of the singular banded caterpillars of the cinnabar moth. The upright buttercups stand up in clusters, for the cattle do not like them on account of their acid juices. These disappear in the process of converting meadow herbage into hay, but even in hay cattle-breeders do not like too many buttercups. By the hedge-rows the climbing and rampant fumitorys are spreading (one species takes the name of Capreolata, or "goat-like," on account of its climbing habit). The hedge-rows possess many other special flowers of their own. Indeed, they form a regular botanic garden. There we now find the hair pepper-wort, the dwarf mallow, and, perhaps, the rarer musk-mallow; the trailing dogrose (Rose arvensis) is in flower; the yellow lady's bed straw rises up among the thorns in dense clusters of minute four-petalled flowers. Close by it is sure to be found one of the prettiest of English flowers, the toad-flat (Linaria)--known among country people as "butter-and-eggs," from its creamy and orange-coloured blends. Close by, at the basis of the hedge banks are growing tufts of that noble-leaved plant (the very kind for an artistic foreground), the burdock (Arctium lappa); and perhaps, the equally distinguished-looking teasel. The pretty little wood-avens there raises its cluster of yellow flowers, side by side with the spikes of yellow agrimony. The wood-avens belongs to the order Rosacae, most of whose members bear succulent fruit, intended to be swallowed, so that the enclosed seeds may be disturbed in the droppings of birds. The wood-avens has evolved quite another dodge, similar to the mechanism for seed distribution possessed by the burdock and teasel. Its fruits are covered all over with hooks, so that they can adhere to anything that comes into contact with them, whether possessed of fur or feathers. The wild lettuce, brilliant blue succory (surely the loveliest of composite flowers), hoary rag-wort, white campion, nettle-leaved campanula, black horehound, pink-flowered betony (the "Herba benedicta" of the old monks), cat-mint, and several other are common on the hedge banks. The hedges themselves are now a sight to be remembered. The bitter-sweet (a member of the order to which the potato and tobacco plant belong) is thrusting its dark green leaves and pretty purple and yellow flowers among the thorns. The bramble up holsters the hedges with its trailing branches covered with delicate but fugitive light pink blossoms; black and white byrony and (where the land is heavy) luxuriant abundance of traveller's joy and great bind-weed festoon these, until the hedges look like garlands.

It is in moist and marshy places, or in the hills, however, that we must look for plants peculiar to August. In the former habitats we shall find the lesser spear-wort, and the celery-leaved buttercup. The juice of the latter will raise a blister on the skin immediately. Where the turf is boggy you will find abundance of that fly-catching plant the sundew. Its round, reddish leaves are arranged in a rosette shape, about the diameter of a half-penny, and it is almost certain some of them will contain little dead insects. The square-stalked St. John's wort, burnet (look for the peculiar black fungus on its pretty leaves, and examine it under the microscope), narrow-leaved willow-herb, flea-bane, creeping-jenny, wound-wort, marsh pimpernel, penny-wort, skull-cap, and others, are common. On the hills we find the pale green clusters of the leaves of butter-wort (also an insectivorous plant), gentians, pearl-wort, saxifrages, hawk-weeds, ladies'-mantle, sneeze-wort. Where the rocks are damp, they will probably be green with the kidney-shaped thick leaves of the kidney-wort (Cotyledon umbilicus) or the pretty Alpine lady's mantle. On chalk hills, and those formed of limestone, we shall now find a peculiar flora, such as drop-wort (Spirea filipendula), wild mignonette, corn-parsley, rock-rose, red-valerian, yellow-wort (Chlora perfoliata), the clustered campanula, autumn*gentian, wild-basil, hoary-plantain, that singular orchid the lady's tresses (Neottia spiralis), and the fragrant orchis.

How marvellously even our native flora has adapted itself to all sorts of physical conditions. No matter how extreme they may be, we are sure to find some plants which have learned to live amid them. People are now gathered at the sea side. What a host of maritime plants fringe the coasts of the sea all the world over! Wandering amid the shingle, or over the sand dunes, we gather the curious horned-poppy, the even more singular sea-holly (a composite plant), the maritime-campion (one of the most beautiful of our wild flowers), the gorgeous sea convolvulus, whose thick trailing leaves are hidden in the sand, the sand-wort, sea-purslane, scurvy-grass, sea-lavender, the pink thrift, the lovely marine everlasting-pea, sea milk-wort, glass-wort, and quite a host of grasses seldom found elsewhere.

The tide of summer life will soon begin to turn, but we shall have pleasant memories of pleasant rambles, which will be stored, to be drawn upon perhaps in those years to come when some of us may be obliged to say we have no pleasure in them.

Typed by happi, Sept 2017