The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Nature Study.

Twelve Spring Wildflowers.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 382-386


LONG ago Shakespeare said of April--

      "He, dressed in all his trim--
      Hath put a spirit of youth in everything."--Son. xcviii.

Now Shakespeare is a very good authority--so although as yet the March winds are getting together the "king's ransom" of dust, we may be sure April will be here directly, "proud, pied, and full of beauty." Now the first lesson we must learn in April's botany talks and walks is, "Avoid procrastination!" Specimens to be worth having must be pressed as soon after gathering as possible--and don't put them in water! The colours specially of primroses and of wild hyacinths will fade or change sooner or later, but far sooner if you put them in water. Take your tin-box with a layer of wadding (I prefer two) very slightly damped--or moss will serve the purpose. Lay your specimens in this at once, don't try a bunch to be arranged after you get home too tired to do it then! But sit down, on a dry place! then and there, and put your specimens in straight and flat. Ten done so will be worth a hundred half-dead ones. Take a pencil and paper in your satchel and write down the names, even if only the country folks' name of each specimen; describe where you found it, and add date of month and year and sort of weather. Now to take twelve, quite ordinary wild-flowers, which we may reasonably hope to find in April, or even in May--
      1. The little adoxa or moschatell.
      2. The yellow archangel.
      3. The tooth-wort.
      4. The broad-leaved garlic.
      5. The wild hyacinth.
      6. The early purple orchis.
      7. The periwinkle--minor and major.
      8. The primrose--pin-eyed and thrum-eyed.
      9. The sweet violet.
      10. The cuckoo pint.
      11. The cuckoo flower.
      12. The greater stitchworth.

We start with the often neglected little adoxa--notice the name, "without glory." Its flowers are very small and greenish, in a little cluster at the top of the stalk. Well, the flower may be "without glory," but the leaves are beautiful in shape and colour. You can find them in almost any lane. They nestle humbly among the fallen leaves, and when their short day is over--as it will be early in June--they seem to melt away. For when the full blaze of sun and flowers comes, they are unnoticed in our banks and hedge-rows. The curious matter we must not overlook is that there are only two of this species (Araliaceae) of plant in Britain--the "gloryless" moschatell and the common ivy (Hedera). Sometimes, though rarely, you may find the fruit or seed of the adoxa, though its brother ivy is abundantly crowned with berries in autumn. Dr. Darwin met with a gigantic plant of this tribe in the Island of Chiloe, off the coast of Chili, the leaves nearly three yards across!

Now for a strangely named flower--the yellow archangel. If adoxa signifies "no glory," then what a pretentious name for a dead nettle! You will find it in damp woods or hedgerows. Its other name is weasel-snout--the Greek shows you that--galeobdolon, appearance of weasel. Be sure to notice the dark rich colour of the corolla. It has nothing to do with a stinging-nettle, so you can "grasp it lightly" if you will. I have often found the galeobdolon in Hampshire, but it is not universal even in England. Its reign is short too, like the adoxa--middle of April to middle of June.

Now for a real hunt among the leaves scattered over the roots of the hazels or elms. We would find if we could the tooth-wort (Lathraea). Look closely, for its form and colour are lost among the remains of the "sere and withered" leaves, which is nearly resembles. It is of the same tribe (Orobanchaceae) as the broom-rape, and like it, a parasite. These two, broom-rape and lathraea, are the only two brother plants of this genus in Britain. Lathraea means "hidden or concealed." Do not neglect to note the bracts below the brown flowers. Note, too, how the parasite grasps the ends of the roots of the hazel or elm; and that they begin to swell, so that the little thief-plant has a firm hold to stand and grow upon. It teaches the lesson of Ser Federigo--"all things come round to him who will but wait!" For the little thief plant has long lain concealed, waiting his chance, until a more adventurous root has pushed his way into the vicinity of the tooth-wort, who is wary, and takes the occasion "at the turn," and triumphantly rears its oft passed over, but real flowers.

Now pick that broad-leaved garlic. Nay! not so supercilious! Transport yourself to Agincourt and, with Fluellen, think "no scorn of the leek"! The Allium ursinum is a most graceful flower; one of the queens of spring it looks--its leaf like the lily of the valley--though we cannot praise its scent!

What is this--such a contrast in depth of colour? The wild hyacinth. But why its Greek name, Agraphis nutans? Simply because modern botanists have removed it from the tribe of Hyacinthus; and called it the "unwritten nodding one." It nods we know; it is unwritten because it lacks the pathetic spots on its petals which the imagination of symbolic-seeking Greeks read as "A.I.," "alas"!--the grief-stricken cry of Apollo, as cruel Zephyrus blew the fatal quoit against the white forehead of the young Hyacinthus, from whose blood the genus of Hyacinthus--some sort of lily--sprang. Our Agraphis nutans is the only representative of the genus in Britain, though Holland boasts 2,000 varieties. The real hyacinth is a native of the Levant. Year after year our "nodding" favourite springs up, gladdening our eyes, and purpling the woods with its glories. If you want its roots--dig deep, or you will spoil your specimens.

And now, once more, use your trowel with a will! and uproot the two-lobed root of the early purple orchis (Orchis mascula). Its scent is not much pleasanter than that of the Allium ursinum! Notice the long spur and twisted ovary. It belongs to a big family--for there are at least 3,000 of the "orchideous" tribe--but this is the forerunner of the tribe.

If we are in the West of England,--and sometimes elsewhere--we now light upon a sweet little flower, the periwinkle (Vinca minor). A member however of a family notoriously poisonous--the Apocynaceae (dogbane), which includes our modest periwinkles, and trees most fatal, in despite of their flaunting showy flowers. The fruit of the plant is divided into two follicles (little pods or bags)--which do not burst--with seeds of a dark colour, very acrid, if not actually poisonous, like the deadly seeds of the crimson blossoms of this tribe in Madagascar. We must linger a little to try and find the Vinca major and note its curious corolla, its depth of colour and its oblique lobes, like those of the St. John's wort.

And now we tread the "path of dalliance," stooping to pick our primroses (Primulaceae), and examine them with reverent care. Note this pin-eyed head, and again this thrum-eyed one--as the country children call them. Mr. Stenhouse tells us that Dr. Darwin showed the marvellous arrangement by which the pollen is bestowed on separate plants. The bees, thrusting their proboscis down the pin-eyed flower, get the dust of the pollen on to their proboscis at the very place where the proboscis will come in contact with the stigma of the thrum-eyed flower. The two sorts of primrose seem to grow on two separate plants, so that the pollen is thus prevented from being used "in and in" on the same plant. Observe the three parts of the pistil--the stigma (which receives the pollen), the style (which joins the pistil to the stigma), and the ovary or egg deposit. This peculiarity of pin-eyed and thrum-eyed is again noticeable in the cowslip.

And now pause, attracted by the little purple favourite "by a mossy stone," with its delicious scent--the "violet in the youth of primy nature": she needs no description, this beautiful viola, the alchemist of nature, for the infusion of violets is one of the most delicate tests of the presence of acids or alkalies. If acid, the violets become the most vivid red; if alkali, a vivid green.

Our next two "finds," the cuckoo-pint and cuckoo flower, we will compare and contrast. Neither are uncommon, the cuckoo-pint (Arum maculatum) may be met with in any hedge, and in the most uncongenial spots. The cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) raises itself lightly and elegantly in any damp meadow. The flower of the cuckoo-pint is hidden; dip below the club-like form, the spadix, and there you come upon little rings of pistils (female) and stamens (male flowers), whereas the flowers of the cuckoo flower is apparent at once, the faint cruciform surmounting the stem. The cuckoo-pint is also the country child's "lords and ladies." Fancy catches the resemblance in the club-like form appearing from the lattice of the green "spatha"; the lady gazing after her lord! Though the term "wake-robin" seems far-fetched--for the robins have long ago waked up from stern winter's icy clasp--the cuckoo flower on the contrary bears another name at once appropriate and suggestive, "my lady's smock"--the "Erba della Madonna" of Italy. Again the Cruciferae group are all wholesome and edible, but the cuckoo-pint belongs to the Araceae, and is the only British specimen; all the Araceae are sharply acrid, if not actually poisonous. We must remember that the West Indian "dumb-cane," growing as high as a man, is a near relative to our "lords and ladies." In the autumn the Cardamine pratensis has faded amid the surrounding grass; but the Arum maculatum is still to be seen though scarcely recognisable, the leaves, the spathe, the spadix--gone! and in their place, a spike-like stalk surmounted by a group of berries--the ovaries of the plant. One more word about the Cardamine pratensis; its name seems derived from the prevalent idea that from it could be decocted a restorative for heart failure.

Our last flower is the lesser celandine, a flower Wordsworth has made immortal, beautiful as burnished gold to every lover of early spring. The Greek name, Chelidon, from the belief that the flower came and went with the swallow. It is a ranunculus, with the addition "Ficaria" on account of the rootlets which break off into little fig-like portions.

Our box is filled with our treasures! Let us lift them from the wadding and place them between folds of blotting paper. A few days will see them ready to be mounted and our box ready to be replenished with more of "pied proud" April's treasures.

(To be continued.)

NOTE.--This paper has been delayed.

Typed by Kelly Burton, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023