Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/May 1887/Prairie-Flowers of Early Spring
|PRAIRIE-FLOWERS OF EARLY SPRING.|
By BYRON D. HALSTED, Sc. D.,
PROFESSOR OF BOTANY, IOWA AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE.
BOTANY has so changed, broadened, and deepened, within the past twenty years, that it may seem like retrogression to talk of flowers. The average botanist of to-day has gone so far beyond mere blossoms, as such, in his study of minute anatomy or in his experiments upon vegetable physiology, that he sometimes almost forgets there are such things as sepals and petals. He must confine himself to a single cell, or at most a group of cells; a tissue, or possibly a tissue system, or else his associates will speak of him as being so broad that he must be shallow. The division of labor, in fact, has gone so far that one person studies pollen for a lifetime, while another counts that day lost in which he does not gain some new fact upon the end-less subject of chlorophyl. There are hundreds of noted botanists who pay no attention to flowering plants except as they are the hosts of, and subject to destructive inroads from, the almost countless species of cryptogamic plants belonging to the rusts, smuts, blights, mildews, and molds.
It therefore requires much courage in this age of advanced botanical thought to attempt to write upon a theme that is so broad as the one selected. "Spring flowers" bears the marks of wear, especially in the hands of those who can do almost anything better than make rhymes. The practical eye of the penetrating student of plant-life has gone beyond the beauty in flowers, and finds a golden thread of adaptation which the average "spring poet" has never dreamed of, even in his highest flights after the soul of things. However, for the genuine poets be it said that it was reserved for the immortal Goethe to first comprehend the true morphology of seemingly so simple a structure as a flower.
The season of flowers opened unusually early this year—how much more so than the average can only be told after observations have been taken over a series of years. Ten years from now it is hoped that the record will be so complete that, with watch in hand, the hour may be given when a certain flower may be expected. There is doubtless a floral clock for the year as there is one for the twenty-four hours of a single day. Perhaps there has been a great Phyto-convention held somewhere, and a majority, if not all, of the choice bloomers were in attendance. Each was assigned its place in the calendar, and if the petals do not unfold and fade away with the regularity of the unerring time-piece, it is no fault of the plant. Upon the surrounding circumstances, and not upon the plant, must rest any blame for irregularity. To any one who has made a careful inspection of the thoroughness with which the pussy-willow prepares for the coming spring, even before the first chill of autumn thrills the summer air, it will be unnecessary to dwell upon this fact. Even in these October days, when the leaves are chasing each other down the roadway, driven by the cruel wind, there are bright promises of another springtime left behind upon the shrubs and trees. The foliage may fall, but its work remains. Their long summer days of toil are not for naught. Within the closely knit covering of the bud sit the germ of a future branch with its leaves defined and its flowers planned. Those who see only evidences of death and decay in the leaf-stripped tree are surface-sighted. A plant is never more itself than when it is fully prepared for a period of repose. It is now most independent and most highly charged with what the physicist would call the energy of position. The plants, therefore, that bloom early in the spring are not idlers through the balance of the year; they ripen their seed, or, in other words, rear up a fine family of children. Each offspring, provided with an outfit for the early struggles of life in the shape of starch, and oil, and protoplasm, is invited to shift for itself. More than this, the mother-plant, if it is the plan that she shall live on, spreads new leaves to the sunshine, and the work of food-making goes on during every day until a store of nourishment is packed away for use in the early growth of the plant the following spring. As a rule, spring flowers are made out of last year's material, and, in this sense, are not as fresh and new as those that come later in the season.
Over fifty pairs of anxious eyes were watching last spring for the first flowers of the year, and it is safe to say that not many days elapsed between the appearance of the first blooms of a species and the time they were discovered. It was none other than the hepatica, or liver-leaf, that first opened its delicate blossoms to the chill air. This was on April 6th, and many days before the snow-banks had silently stolen away. The fact that this little forerunner of warmer and better days has been recently uprooted by botanists and transplanted in another genus seems only to quicken its pulse and make it breathe the air of April more freely. Hepatica acutiloba (DC), of my earlier botanical days, has changed to Anemone acutiloba (Lawson). It by any other binomial botanical title would bloom as early and smell as sweet. Its twin sister has undergone a more violent treatment, and, instead of Hepatica tribola (Chaix), it is settled among the wind-flowers as Anemone hepatica, where the immortal Linnæus had placed it a century ago. The fineness and even brittleness of the thread by which a species is hung is well illustrated by these two hepaticas. Without considering how minute were the characteristics upon which the genus Hepatica was founded by Dillenius, let us see in what the two American species differ. Dr. Gray, in his "School and Fleld-Book," says: "Hepatica triloba (round-lobed hepatica), leaves, with three broad and rounded lobes, appearing later than the flowers and lasting over winter; stalks hairy; flowers blue, purple, or almost white; woods, common East. H. acutiloba (sharp-lobed hepatica), wild from Vermont, West, has pointed lobes to the leaves, sometimes five of them, and paler flowers."
We are not favored with the round-lobed hepatica in this vicinity, and can not say from observation how bright its flowers might be in the pure, clear atmosphere of this prairie-region; but it is true that the sharp-lobed species does not pale in comparison with the Eastern flowers of the A. hepatica, unless my memory has faded in the mean time. The blue we get is deeper than can be caught from the sky on our clearest April day. There remains little else upon which to hang the species except the shape of the lobes of the leaves, and this is exceedingly variable. Last spring a patch of a hundred blooms or more grew close by the retreating edge of a snow-bank, only a few feet from my window, and the little clusters of blossoms varied so much among each other that an unobserving person would look the second time to note the shades of color. The foliage in like manner varied, and in some instances it seemed that there was evidence enough in that one bed to overthrow the strongest belief in there being two species of American hepaticas. I say we do not have more than one species here, and that is largely due to the fact that it is easier for us to put them all under A. acutiloba than to try and distinguish the two. To say that the acute-lobed leaves are sometimes five-lobed, is no distinction. In the college herbarium is a specimen of the roundest of the round-lobed from Michigan, with this same characteristic. The greater number of sepals (seven to twelve) in the A. acutiloba, there being six to nine in the other, has little weight, especially if we examine the specimens of A. hepatica from Europe. In turning to "The Manual," it is found that Dr. Gray, of course, comprehends the situation, and adds the following "saving clause" at the close of the description of H. acutiloba: "Perhaps runs into the other."
One further observation upon the hepatica, and then we will hasten on to other and quickly following April flowers. One plant of the A. acutiloba was found, the calyx of which was unusually small and dark blue, while the involucre was larger than ordinary. A closer examination revealed that these flowers were pistillate, and only vestiges of stamens could be found, and these in only two of the many flowers. The pistils, thirty-five to fifty in each flower, were about double the average number in ordinary blossoms. The plant seemed to be quite generally "off the track." The involucre of one flower had a fourth leaf (the ordinary number being three), which resembled a sepal in form and bright color. One of the three green leaves of the same involucre, instead of being of the normal entire form, was trilobed at the tip, giving it a strong resemblance to a leaflet of the meadow-rues (Thalictrian), an adjoining genus. Upon looking up this interesting unisexual tendency in the hepatica, it was found that Dr. S. Calloni had recently made a similar observation in Europe on Anemone hepatica, as indicated in the "Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society" for April of the present year.
The next in order of time of our early-blooming plants comes the wild hazel (Corylus Americana, Walt.). This shrub would be passed by by the seeker of showy blossoms. Like most of the species of its order (Cupuliferæ), including the oak, chestnut, beech, and hornbeams, the staminate or male flowers are in drooping, cylindrical clusters, without any showy calyx or corolla. The pistillate or female flowers are elsewhere upon the same shrub, and are likewise inconspicuous. We have, therefore, in our first two flowering species, many widely different characteristics. The hepatica is a small herb that clings close to the earth, and may flourish under the protection that the hazel-bush yields it. The liver-leaf has showy flowers, which it holds up on long stalks in a conspicuous manner, and bears in each blossom both the essential organs (stamens and pistils) for the production of seed. The hazel has its sexes separated on the same shrub, and attempts no display of attractive color or forms. These two species, that bloom on almost the same early April day, have so little in common that they can not be rivals in any sense. They are moving along on independent lines, which for each, under its particular circumstances, are lines of least resistance. It may be that in this thought we find a solution of the problem of their very early blooming.
On April 11th two widely different plants were found in flower, namely, the first of the sedges (Carex Pennsylvanica, L.), and the blood-root (Sanguinaria Canadensis, L.). The little early sedge may claim some kinship with the hazel in this, that the flowers are of two kinds, and the staminate or pollen-bearing are more conspicuous than the inobtrusive pistillate or seed-bearing blossoms. Both the hazel and sedge depend upon the capricious winds for the transport of their pollen from the male to the female flowers. Darwin claimed that "Nature abhors continual close fertilization"; that is, the fertilization of the ovules of a flower by the pollen of the same blossom. In the hazel and the sedge we find the strongest sort of proof of such a doctrine. Close fertilization is impossible, from the simple fact that each flower is unisexual. The blood-root presents us with another side of the great and interesting subject of adaptations for cross-fertilization which was developed by Conrad Sprengel nearly a century ago, and given its present form by Darwin in 1862. What lover of flowers does not know the blood-root in its home among the decaying leaves along hedge-rows and out in the rich, open woods? Who does not recall the strangely and neatly lobed palmate leaf, up through the coil of which the plump bud pushes its way, and in a day has blossomed and gone? It may be some young botanists have been puzzled over the "sepals 2" of the manuals, forgetting that this wide-awake plant, having no further need for the firm, protective covering to the flower-buds, drops its two sepals as they open, leaving the delicate, pure, white petals and the April insects to succeed as best they can in the work of cross-fertilization. Just what kinds of bees, or bugs, or beetles stand ready to rob each opening flower of its sticky pollen, I am not prepared to say. It is true that the blood-root has few competitors, at this time of year, for the employment of the insect tribes. Its petals are large, and doubtless catch the watchful eyes of the hungry insects at long range. The plant and the insect work together, each selfishly, yet each successfully. The mutual adaptation existing between some flowers, as those of many orchids and their attendant insects, is so complete that neither the plants nor the insects could well exist without one another. Some plants are absolutely dependent upon certain insects for the transfer of their pollen, while these same insects could not subsist without the flowers from which to extract their daily food. In our little blood-root, we do not believe such a thorough dependence exists. If insects do not bring more potent pollen from some other flower, that of its own, falling upon the stigma close by, will suffice.
On April 13th two species were found in flower, and between them there are seemingly wider differences of structure than were pointed out in the last two. The white elm (Ulmus Americana, L.) is a large tree, famous for its grace and beauty in the hands of the landscape gardener. The Stellaria media (Smith) is the common chickweed, so abundant around dwellings in every part of the world. The stately elm is an American species, as its botanical name indicates, while the chickweed is one of a large class of plants which have come to us unbidden, and frequently unwelcomed, from beyond the sea. Its greatest economic value seems to be as a salad-plant for canary and other imprisoned birds. This little, insignificant herb delights in cold, shady soil, and frequently opens its blossoms beneath, or when surrounded by, drifts of snow. There seems to be no good foundation for this haste, as the plant continues in bloom during nearly its whole lifetime of a year or more. It also seems as if it would be just as well to delay flowering until insects are more numerous, at which times the blossoms secrete so much honey that the drops may be seen without a hand-lens. Among other insects, the prolific aphides (plant-lice) and the ubiquitous house-fly (Musca domestica, L.) are attendant upon the unobtrusive chickweed-flowers. The blossoms of the elm are also small, but depend upon the winds for transfer of their pollen. The leaves do not unfold until the flowers are past, and in this circumstance we may see an instance of the working of the law of adaptation. The foliage might interfere with the easy movement of the dry, dusty pollen from one tree or branch to another. Students of plant-life are always pleased to observe that adaptations for cross-fertilization are worked out along very many lines. The elm offers an instance in which there is a seeming confusion in the floral type. Botanists say the elms are polygamous, which only means that some flowers are perfect or hermaphroditic, having both stamens and pistil, while others are unisexual, being either staminate or pistillate. This appears to indicate that the elm is passing through a transition state, either toward a final separation of the sexes, as in the hazel, or is approaching those plants which have their flowers all perfect, as the magnolias or tulip-trees.
The Ranunculus repens (L.) opened its bright-yellow petals on April 14th, and was the only new flower for that date. This creeping buttercup is one of a large genus which takes its name from the Latin word for a little frog, applied to these plants by Pliny, because many species are aquatic and abound with the frogs. The English farmers rank this early spring plant among their weeds, and like many other plant-pests it has a remarkable provision for spreading and occupying the land. Shortly after the flowers have faded the plants send out runners which quickly take root at their joints as in the strawberry, and before midsummer has passed the mother-plant may have a brood of young extending far beyond the protection of her "wings" or leaves.
April 15th has four species recorded against it on the note-book, namely: Isopyrum biternatum (T. and G.), Dicentra cucullaria (DC), Capsella Bursa-pastoris (Moench), and Erythronium albidum (Nutt). What a variety is here presented in so small a number! There are as many orders represented as species. One is an endogen of the lily family, and should be called spring-lily, instead of white dog's-tooth violet. There is very little to suggest a violet in shape or color, and, as for the "dog's-tooth" part, the quicker it is extracted the better! The other three species are disposed among the exogens; the isopyrum, or enemion, falling in close by the side of the crowfoots and the marsh-marigolds, but a thousand times more delicate in habit than the latter. It is the ordinary wind-flower exalted in its foliage to the attractiveness of a maiden-hair fern. The student, during his first spring among the early flowers, is quite liable to confuse this isopyrum with the rue-anemone (Thalictrum anemonoides, Michx.). At this he should not grieve because older heads have been troubled with this little thalictrum—which now is no more a thalictrum. Of it De Candolle wrote,"Habit and frondescence of isopyrum with the inflorescence of anemone and the fruit of thalictrum." Spach has placed the little puzzler in a new genus and calls it a little anemone that is much like a thalictrum, viz., Anemonella thalictroides. This is only one of many instances where further study of a species has led to a new setting in the system; in fact, a large part of the work of the systematic botanist in the future will be the erasing of old, confusing, ill-defined lines, and the drawing of clearer and stronger ones. But, wherever the rue-anemone may go in the classification, its likeness to the isopyrum will remain, and, coming as these two plants do at the same time in April, they will always furnish a test for the discriminating powers of the student. To these two species add the wind-flower (Anemone nemorosa, L.), all of which appear at about the same time and in similar situations, and the student has three forms over which he may work for some hours before the representations of the three genera are satisfactorily determined. It is, however, just such work that opens the eyes of the young naturalist and makes him mindful of little things. The shepherd's-purse (Capsella Bursa-pastoris, Moench) is an intruder from Europe that has found its way into our cultivated ground, and become most ugly because so much in the way of other and better plants. This weed seems to be running a race to the seed-goal with some other of our plant-pests. During the present season strings were tied upon certain flower-stalks when their flowers were in bloom, and a record was kept of the time required for the maturing of the seed. The number of days varied from fourteen to seventeen. This is in striking contrast with the two long years of maturation required for the acorns of many species of oaks. The ubiquitous dandelion can, however, win the pennant for quick-seeding from the shepherd's-purse. It can reach the home-line when capsulla is only half-way round the track. But while a dandelion-plant, on an average, produces 1,720 seeds, the shepherd's-purse ripens 17,600, or more than ten to one! The same student has determined this year that these figures are low indeed when compared with those for the offspring of the purslane speedwell (Veronica peregrina, L.). This small plant began flowering on May 3d, and before six weeks were past it had produced 186,292 seeds. What some plants may lack in size and durability they make more than whole by wonderful powers of reproduction. The Dicentra cucullaria (DC.) is the interesting "Dutchman's breeches," with the heart-shaped corolla, much like its cultivated favorite sister, the Dicentra spectabilis (DC), better known as "bleeding-heart," with its long, gracefully bending stems, each bearing a dozen or more of rosy "hearts." Our early wild dicentra exceeds its cultured relative in delicacy and beauty of foliage and its strange-shaped flowers, which are, although smaller and less highly colored, not less interesting structurally. The visiting insect, intent upon securing the honey secreted at the base of the petals, must brush aside a close-fitting cap or hood before the pollen and the stigma may be touched. The two canals leading to the nectar are so constructed that the insect, usually a bee, in thrusting his proboscis into either, brings his body against the hood and, pushing it aside, dusts fresh pollen from some other flower upon the stigma. Before he leaves, new pollen is unintentionally secured by the insect for the fertilization of the next flower visited. The hood of the pendent blossom falls back to its accustomed place as soon as the bee retires, and again incloses the pistil and the six stamens situated close around it. When we remember that the stamens of a particular flower may mature before its stigma, it is easy to understand that the pollen of that flower, although placed close by the side of the stigma, is designed for some other flower, and the presence of nectar and proboscis-canals, as well as a fine landing-place for the bee, at the base of the hanging corolla, are all to secure cross-fertilization. This little species has worked out the problem in a most interesting way, and doubtless the insects have had much to do with determining these final results.
The box-elder and the silver-maple began blooming on April 16th. There is no evident relation between size of plant and extent of floral structure. Some Alpine gentians have flowers an inch long, while the balance of the plant is shorter and probably has less weight than the single blossom it bears. The most wonderful flower of all is that of Rafflesia Arnoldi, which sometimes measures nine feet in circumference and weighs fifteen pounds. These monstrous blossoms are almost without stem, being sessile (sitting) upon the branch of the vine from which as a parasite the flower derives its nourishment. In striking contrast with this obese robber the stately and independent silver-maple has inconspicuous flowers that might be readily overlooked if they did not appear before the foliage. The genus Acer, to which the silver or soft maple belongs, is very variable in this last point. Some species, like the one in hand (Acer dasycarpum, Eh.), flower before unfolding the leaves; others, like the highly prized sugar-maple, have the flowers and leaves appear at the same time; while others are laggards, and bring forth their blossoms after the leaves are fully formed and busy with their work. The same differences hold as to the time of ripening the seeds. The silver-maple has its seeds ready for the last breezes of May, and upon the large wing each little plantlet takes an airing that the thoughtful student watches with much delight. If the breeze is strong, the seed passes along with the unsteady and rapid progress of a butterfly, usually with a downward course from the tree-top, where it was borne, but sometimes it rises and hastens on, perhaps to fall on rich soil a hundred rods from the parent tree. Each of these winged fruits bears a single seed within, and as the fruit falls upon the ground the heavy end strikes first, thus bringing the root of the little plantlet in the best position for rapid development. When the fruits fall upon sod-ground, the condition that often obtains in Nature, the passing breezes play upon the uplifted wing and tend to work the heavy seed end of the fruit into the turf. Under favorable conditions the soft-maple seeds germinate at once, and, before the season closes, seedlings a foot or two in height may be produced. The late-flowering maples do not make any such progress, and seem satisfied if they simply secure a good crop of seeds. In order to test the importance of the soft-maple seeds obtaining a suitable place for germination as soon as they are mature, a quantity were gathered and stored in a dry place, where other seeds are kept. A year after they were sown in rich, moist soil, alongside of a row freshly gathered from under the same trees. None of the year-old seeds grew, while the fresh ones soon sent up their stems and leaves. The silver-maple plantlet is pulpy and already of a deep green when it falls from the tree, and probably is killed as soon as it becomes thoroughly dried. The seed runs many risks for the sake of being a sizable seedling the same season.
The box-elder (Negundo aceroides, Moench) belongs to a most closely related genus to the maples, and by some botanists it is placed with them in the genus Acer. The most striking difference is seen in the leaves, those of the box-elder being compound like the ash, hence one of the common names, "ash-leaved maple," while the leaves of the familiar maples are simple. In the box-elder the sexes are separated much more clearly than in the maples. One tree bears only staminate flowers while another has only pistillate blossoms, and therefore bears the fruit. To have good seeds it is necessary that at least two box-elder trees be in the same vicinity, and one of these must be male and the other female. This tree is the type of hardiness in the severe climate of the Northwest, but in this connection there are some points not easy of explanation. The box-elder of one section of the country may be identical in structure with specimens in a different climate, but widely different in hardiness. This brings to view again the law of adaptation as applied to the inherent ability to withstand the untoward circumstances that have surrounded the ancestry for long periods in the past. The same is true of many other species growing over wide areas of country. They may possibly retain the same botanical characteristics, but beyond all that the eye, with the aid of the best microscopes, can see, there is that which enables one plant to flourish when another will fail.
The 17th of April brought blossoms of Caltha palustris (L.), and Carex stricta (Lam.). The first is the marsh-marigold, or perhaps more familiarly known as the "cowslip." The genuine cowslip of the poets is a different plant, it being a primrose. The caltha is a pot-herb of no great merit, and does not possess that type of beauty which inspires the muse. The carex is the second sedge of the season. It doubtless has its place to fill in the scheme of creation.
April 18th introduced us to three species, the Populus monilifera (Ait.), or cottonwood; Antenaria plantaginifolia (Hook), the plantain-leaved everlasting; and Viola palmata, var. cucullata (Gray), the common blue violet. Spring has now fairly opened, for the violets have come. This day throws together in the list three very different plants. The poplar is one of the most wide-spread and hardiest of trees. It is the only kind of arboreal vegetation in many places along water-courses of the Northwest, in regions subject to severe climatic conditions. It can bear the heat and drought of summer and the extreme cold of winter when other forms succumb. It may be worthy of note that this hardy tree produces timber that is among the lightest on the list of woods in the United States. Its specific gravity is only .3886, or a little more than one third as heavy as water. We have sixteen species of trees yielding wood heavier than water. Nearly all of these are in the Southern States, and several are confined to the extreme south of Florida, which is a tropical or sub-tropical region. The Southern pine (Pinus palustris, L.), from which we get an excellent lumber, besides pitch, tar, turpentine, etc., is nearly twice as heavy as the Northern or white pine (Pinus strobits, L.). The very hardy box-elder yields only a light wood. It would seem that firmness of texture and great specific gravity of wood are not characteristics that accompany ability to induce wide ranges of conditions and sudden changes in temperature.
The little everlasting, with leaves like the plantain, although covered with a soft, silky wool, is the earliest representative of the largest of all the natural orders of flowering plants, the Compositæ or sunflower family. It does not announce its coming into bloom by any display of showy colors, and the young naturalist could be forgiven for either not seeing it, or not desiring to struggle with it, through the bewildering maze of the key to the genera of this difficult order.
The Viola cucullata of Aiton has gone, and in its place we must write V. palmata, var. cucullata. Dr. Gray, in his recent revision of the North American violets, of which he finds thirty-three species, has restored Viola palmata of Linnæus. This is a very variable species. There seems to be no part of leaf or flower that is not subject to a wide range of variation, unless we except the three-valved pod with its single cavity. Many species of violets are remarkable for a second kind of flowers, which are inconspicuous, closed, and self-fertile. They may be found in all stages of development beneath the soil and throughout the growing season. Last autumn the writer gathered a quantity of the seed from the underground pods and mixed them with seeds from pods produced by the ordinary flowers, and no one of the many persons to whom the mixture was submitted could detect any difference. Yesterday (October 14th) a class of one hundred students in elementary botany analyzed the Viola palmata, L. Abundant material for this exercise was obtained on a piece of land near a railroad that had been burned over during the prolonged drought which lasted for more than two months in midsummer. The plants having passed through so severe a season, which was followed by abundant warm rains, perhaps have been deceived, and are arrayed in the garb they had prepared for spring. The form with entire leaves—the old V. cucullata—tinge the bank of the railroad-track with their unusually high-colored flowers, while the palmata is abundant on the higher land. The V. delphinifolia (Nutt.) is our most common violet of spring, but it has not been found in bloom this autumn, nor has any other than the ones mentioned been reported, although we have eight or more species and some varieties in the State.
The 20th of the month of showers, of smiles and tears, as the poet would say or has said, brought out the Amelanchier Canadensis (T. and G.), and five other species. The amelanchier is often called "shad-bush" in the Eastern States, when the famous river-fish of spring have their period for ascending the streams, which time corresponds somewhat with the blossoming of the amelanchier. "June-berry" and "service-berry" are other names for this small tree, which, when in full bloom, is very attractive. The wild strawberry (Fragaria Virginiana, Ehrh.), a member of the same family (Rosaceæ) with the "June-berry," is recorded for the same day. The best of all strawberries, even in this age of a thousand cultivated varieties, were those gathered in youth upon the grassy hill-side. The flavor of the wild strawberry is nearly lost in many of the larger and more showy fruits of her highly pampered offspring. The toothwort, or dentaria (Dentaria laciniata, Muhl), and Draba Caroliniana (Walt.), or "whitlow-grass," come almost side by side in the manual as members of the Cruciferæ or mustard family. In the first we have an old friend of childhood days. Many an eager youth has burrowed his fingers deeply into the rich leaf-mold and earth, in search of the little potato-like root-stocks filled with a peppery and toothsome substance. The mustard-like flavor gets too strong as the root-stocks grow old, so that the luxury of gathering them in early spring is appreciated. Unlike its nearly related toothwort, the draba is a lover of sandy, waste places, where it, in its smallness and feeble growth, can have its own way. It does not enter into the sharp competition with other plants for the possession of the rich soil. Its strength and durability reside in its being content with poor fare.
The last but far from the least of the five flowering plants for April 20th was nothing less than the smooth lungwort (Mertensia Virginica, DC.). The bell-shaped flowers are of the choicest blue, a color that is both rare and beautiful in plants. It is no wonder that it has been transported from the moist banks of streams to adorn the flower-border in early spring, under the name of "blue-bells" or "Virginia cowslip," or, better still, "Mertensia," the generic name, taken from a German botanist, Mertens. The West has several of the mertensias, the most striking of which, to travelers in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, is the Mertensia Siberica (Don.). It covers the borders of mountain-streams with a rank herbage three to five feet in height, bearing a profusion of bright, light-blue flowers. This giant of the dashing mountain-streams has its dwarf form (var. Drummondii, Gray) upon the far-away Arctic sea-shore.
April 21st finds the prickly-ash (Zanthoxylum Americanum, Mill), the small flowered buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus, L.), and the round-leaved gooseberry (Ribes rotundifolia, Michx.), in bloom. The prickly-ash, sometimes called "toothache-tree," is perhaps the nearest of kin of the orange, lemon, lime, and shaddock that grows in this flora. The aromatic bark and pungent leaves are a poor reflection of the very agreeable aroma that accompanies the fruit of the tropical relatives. This disagreeable shrub, to make itself doubly sure of escaping the ravages of foraging animals, has armed itself with multitudes of keen prickles upon all its parts. It has won in the race, for in many places on the low land along the streams it occupies the ground to the exclusion of all else of a woody nature. The small-flowered buttercup is an instance of where, in a large genus having mostly showy flowers, the petals of a species may be much reduced. The wild gooseberry is a plant with possibilities that still remain undeveloped. It may have vast resources that only the practical horticulturist can develop in his own time and way. The gooseberry is not the only wild fruit plant that deserves the quickening hand of skill to bring it, in an improved and acceptable form, before the world. Our wild apples, plums, cherries, blackberries, thorn-apples, papaws, huckleberries, cranberries, and an extended list of native fruits, are all hopeful subjects for the fruit-grower. Let any who would begin the work of subjugation look at the results already obtained from the culture of the American grapes.
The 22d of the month has Astragalus caryocarpus (Ker.) and Celtis occidentalis (L. ) scored against it. The former is a vetch, with a pod so hard and plump that it has taken the common name of "ground-plum." The latter, the hackberry, is a choice tree closely related to the elms, but bearing berry-like fruits instead of those with wings.
From this time forward the list for each day lengthens. For the 23d, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Weber); the two wood-sorrels (Oxalis violacea, L., and O. corniculata, var. stricta, Sav.); false Solomon's-seal (Smilacina stellata, Desp.); wild ginger (Asarum Canadensis, L.); slippery-elm (Ulmus fulva, Michaux); and the wild sweet-william (Phlox divaricata, L. ), make up a full list that ought to satisfy any ambitious collector. If we except the slippery-elm and the dandelion—the latter, because it grows as a weed in our lawn and not from any lack of inherent beauty—we have five species of spring flowers, strictly so called, and objects of the flower-hunter's search. The tyro will be quite sure to find the "prairie phlox" with its high and showy flower-cluster, and likewise he should return with the first of the smilacinas and the sorrels, but no blame will rest upon his head if he oversteps the inconspicuous although large flowers of the wild ginger that shyly keep close upon the ground beneath the plant's large reniform leaves. The next day added the following to the list of plants in flower: Gill or ground-ivy (Nepeta glichoma, Benth.); the great bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora, Smith); the little Anemonella thalictroides (Spach.), before mentioned with isopyrum; and Ostrya Virginica ( Willd.), the hop-hornbeam. The bellwort has the most showy flower of the day, and the hornbeam the least conspicuous. April 25th continues the list as follows: The star-grass (Hypoxis erecta, L.), the old hand-leaf violet (V. cuculata, var. palmata, Gray), its close of kin the larkspur-violet (V. delphinifolia, Nutt.), and the Indian turnip (Arasæma triphyllum, Low.), sometimes better known as "Jack-in-tbe-pulpit." The writer will never forget his first introduction to the tuberous root-stock, or "turnip," of the last-named plant. The mean face of the full-grown man who prepared a slice of the "turnip" for me (then only an inexperienced child) has never faded from my memory. My directions were to chew it and swallow all quickly. Only those who have tasted of the corm know how intensely acrid its substance can be.
For the balance of the month, and in the order here given, the following plants came into bloom: The bur-oak (Quercus macrocarpa, Michx.) 3 wild plum (Primus Americana, Marsh); white-oak (Quercus alba, L.); butternut (Juglans cinerea, L.); spike-rush (Eliocharis obtusa, Sch.); columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis, L.); hard maple (Acer saccharinum, var. nigrum, Gr.); meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum, L.); blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides, Michx.); wild black currant (Ribes floridum, L.); wild gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati, L.); and the lousewort (Pedicularis Canadensis, L.). This dozen species includes five trees, four of which are of great economic value, the hard maple and the white-oak taking the first places. Among the herbs, the columbine, or the "honeysuckle" of childhood, is the most showy. Boys as well as bees know that sweet is found at the base of each long spur-petal.
It will be seen that fifty-six species bloomed here (Ames, Iowa) during the month of April, or an average of about two and a half per day from April 6th, when the first blossoms of the hepatica were discovered, until the close of the month. The species recorded for May number seventy-seven and for June one hundred and thirty-one. The average for May is the same as for April, but for June it rises to four and one third per day. In July, it is five and a quarter new plants per day, Sundays not excluded. The season of 1886 has been an exceptional one. The spring opened early as the large number of species blooming in April substantially proves. During two months in midsummer there was only a quarter of an inch of rain instead of nine, which is the average. This drought pushed many species forward out of their natural places, and has doubtless much influenced the record.
The flora of the State of Iowa is not very large in numbers. Professor Arthur's catalogue made in 1876 gives nine hundred and seventy-nine species, including well marked varieties. Since 1876 one hundred and ninety-seven additions have been made to the list of flowering plants, thus increasing the total number to eleven hundred and seventy-six. A preliminary list for this county (Story), in which six hundred and nine species and varieties are recorded, has been made the present season by a graduate student, Mr. A. L. Hitchcock, and to whom the writer is indebted for a full and careful record of the time of blooming of the plants in this vicinity. He was aided by a large class in botany, among the members of which existed a stimulating spirit of rivalry in bringing the first blooms of any species to the class-room. Over fifty observers, therefore, have been gatherers of the facts upon which the present paper is founded.