The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Veronica Chamasdrys--Germander Speedwell.

by Mrs. Ussher.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 671-672

This plant has different dresses for sun and shade. In dark damp places the leaves are often a dull brown-green with purple veins, and the whole plant is very hairy. The colouring matter, which shows as brown and purple in the leaf, is able to change what scant light the plant gets into heat, and the hairs turn the wet and prevent the web and woof of the plant from getting water-clogged. The dark flowers grow in a spray which springs from the base of a big leaf. Each flower of the spray springs in its turn from the base of a tiny leaf, so dwarf that it seems, towards the tip of the spray, to be little more than a hair. The seeds often shrivel--it is only here and there that one of them manages to swell big, and even so, it does not always fully ripen from want of sun. Now compare a plant growing in a place which is only half-sheltered--say a grassy tussock where the tufts break the sun-rays and draw up the Speedwell stems. The brown and purple has vanished from the leaves--they are warm enough without it: it comes, like the pink flush on daisies, to cold cheeks. These comfortable leaves are a full rich green, and the flowers, too, are no longer so purplish, but a fuller, often uncompromising blue; and the seeds for the most part ripen.

But who would guess that this shy little beauty is the same as she who litters her gaudy robes of red, yellow and orange leaves with flashing gems of coldest, clearest blue? This is the way she shows herself off on bare waste ground, where there are no rivals to be jealous of her brightness and nobody to look down on her except the sun, who is altogether too high to matter--his condescension is a compliment! Look at her trailing her skirts--the leaves cover the ground as completely as those of the periwinkle tangle you saw the other day; it is the leaf stalks this time which throw themselves back to the light. At first you will say, "But there are no leaf stalks." In the shade this is sometimes almost true, but here there is enough pivot to turn on; and where the leaves continue to grow in opposite pairs, the leaf which by rights would have to duck under the trailing shoot right into the soil, twists upwards instead and lays itself over the upper surface of the stem. This is the very place where there is most room and light for it. But very often, especially toward the end of the stems, you find the plan of opposite leaves has been quite given up by the plant. Instead, the Ieaves grow, turn about, and from the base of each springs a flower on a long stalk. The seed vessels ripen quickly; they hurry through their green clothes and put on a rich yellow-ochre dress--but they are not used to so much finery--presently they are ashamed of it, hang their heads down and the seeds drop into the soil. Or, perhaps, some breeze catches the rim, and its current gets under the broad flattened side of a seed and buoys it up and floats it away, like some small raft, to new moorings. The seeds have a good chance in these sunny places for the insects come galore; the flowers are not so large as those you saw in the shade, but they are set off grandly by the bright, burnt leaves. Nature is aware how well her four blue signal flags can be seen at a distance, and instead of filling four dust bags [anthers], as she does for most of its relations, she only fills two for the Speedwell. The (dust) threads [stamens] stand out sideways from the flower, and as the dust shoot [pistil] projects straight forward, the flower seems entirely dependent on insect visits. Every preparation is made for the latter: the dust shoot is in readiness and the dust [pollen] fit to go down it all at the same time, and dark blue lines running into a central white spot show the way to the honey. The latter is to be found in a yellowish fleshy place right in the bottom of the flower, and is kept dry by a roof of hairs. The insect lights on the lowest blue leaf, along which the dust shoot lies. He holds on by the dust threads to prevent tumbling off, but by doing so he unconsciously gets loaded as dust carrier; for the bags are dragged underneath him, and his waistcoat becomes powdered with dust, ready to supply the shoot of the next Speedwell to be visited. Sometimes, if an insect lights on one of the blue side leaves (instead of the bottom leaf as above) one of the dust bags gets drawn against him, but this is not always certain to happen.

When does the flower open and shut? At Innsbruck, Linnaeus watched it come out between nine and ten in the morning and go to bed between five and six in the evening. Perhaps this opening and closing not only keeps the flower warm and dry but makes it less dependent on insects than seems at first the case. By closing, the dust bags would be brought nearer the dust shoot. During long rainy days the flower may be feeding its own seeds.

Scanned by Tesseract, Proofread by LNL, Jan. 2024