Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/July 1903/The Preservation of Wild Flowers




THE fact that several of our delicate and most beautiful wild flowers are fast disappearing from places where they were once found has led to an effort to prevent the complete extermination of certain species and the increasing scarcity of other plants. The plants so endangered differ in different localities. The endeavor to protect particular ones has therefore local modifications, but the basis of the movement, the desire to prevent wasteful destruction of plant life, is the same in all sections of the country.

A national society, known as 'The Wild Flower Preservation Society of America,' has been organized, aiming to do for the native plants what the Audubon Society has so well done for the birds. Its methods of work are similar to those of the bird society. In its official organ, The Plant World, has been published during the past year a series of articles on the general subject of plant preservation with the addition of specific suggestions regarding the flowers about New York city. Reprints of these articles may be obtained upon application to the secretary of the society, C. L. Pollard, 1854 Fifth Street, Washington, D. C. A number of persons in New England who take keen interest in wild flowers have united to form a 'Society for the Protection of Native Plants.' The object of this society is to try to do something to check the wholesale destruction to which our native plants are exposed. Brief appeals, to the general public, to children and to nature study teachers have beeen issued and widely distributed in the form of leaflets, which can be obtained of Miss Maria Carter, Boston Society of Natural History. In the state of Connecticut laws have been passed which protect the Hartford fern, and governing boards of various metropolitan reservations of field and woodland have made restrictions regarding the picking of their flora.

The problem presented to the various organizations interested in plant preservation is how depredations may be checked without seriously restricting the freedom or enjoyment of the nature lover. It is desired to set at work such factors as will arouse a healthy public sentiment against indiscriminate and thoughtless flower picking.

The work is much more difficult than that which was before the Audubon Society, and the right public sentiment can not be created in the same manner. Many of the strongest reasons given for bird protection are wanting in an appeal for the plants. Birds, high in the scale of animal life, with power to feel pain and pleasure, with food-seeking, home-making and young-protecting instincts, demand, as fellow creatures, freedom from cruelty. Efforts were first made to protect them as individuals, while the prevention of the destruction of species was a secondary consideration. Through the agricultural department of our government, knowledge of the great economic value of birds was disseminated, and this was a most effective means of in-

Golden-rod (Solidago serolina).

suring their protection. Through the same department people learned of the vast value of our trees to preserve which a public sentiment was created. Laws were then passed for their protection, and we now have a distinct forestry policy.

To most persons our wild plants are only things of beauty, common property to be admired or destroyed at will and, therefore, can not be preserved by the same petitions as were made in behalf of the birds. The appeal for the plants is much more difficult and must be at first not a thoughtfulness for the plant, less it degenerate into an unhealthy sentiment, but a request that consideration be given to the rights of other people, that common property be protected for com-

Twinflower (Linnæa borealis).

mon enjoyment. Efforts to create reforms through calling upon higher altruistic motives require a long time for their process of evolution,

Great Laurel (Rhododendron maximum).

and demand most strenuous work in order that the 'influence of the enlightened few' may be felt by the 'unenlightened many.' Permanent reform is best assured by positive rather than negative means, Aster (A. spectabilis). and this particular one can be easily, though slowly, accomplished through nature study.

The increasing interest in the study of nature and the publication of numerous illustrated popular books on the subject have been much feared by the friends of the wild flowers, who feel that wanton destruction will follow in the path of the enthusiastic young student. This fear has been somewhat justified in towns and cities where, in their eagerness to get specimens for the class, the thoughtless pupils have robbed the parks and gardens. Perhaps, too, in the country, Sabbatia (S. stellaris). the nature study program has been the means of reducing the numbers of our most attractive wild flowers. This was a natural result of the first step in a movement which will develop into a more carefully directed study. The popular teaching of ornithology in America has advanced farther than botany. In its early days collecting 'sets of eggs' and skins of birds were prominent features of the work and the extinction of the great auk was one of the results. But now, partly through nature study and partly through the influence of the Audubon Society, studying the habits of birds, naming them without a gun, photographing eggs in the nest and birds in the bush are the most popular aspects of the study.

The gathering of plants to be used in schools as specimens for class instruction can be obviated by school authorities arranging to purchase such supplies from botanic gardens or nurseries where they have been

Bird-foot Violet (Viola pedata).

raised in large numbers for the purpose. Such an arrangement has been made between a few teachers of botany in Boston, and the

Plymouth Mayflower, Trailing Abbutus (Epigæa repens).

directors of the Bussey Institute of Harvard University. Well might a portion of city parks and public gardens be devoted to the raising of such plants as are in demand for botanical instruction. The farmer's boy or girl, having at his disposal various kinds of land and being able to gain intimate knowledge of the conditions best suited to the different wild flowers which would not flourish in a city park, can experiment with their cultivation, and in time find the raising of native plants a useful and fascinating employment. The instilling of a love of flowers will help to protect them, but this must be united with scientific knowledge of their structure and relation to their environment in order that the necessity for restricting the manner in which they are gathered and the number that are collected will be evident.

The epigæa perhaps has suffered more from inroads upon it than any other New England plant. Its sweet odor and delicate beauty

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

were in themselves attractive. Its connection with the Plymouth settlement created for it a patriotic sentiment which unfortunately was not united with a knowledge of the office of its underground rootstock and its slow manner of growth. Bryant's poem drew to the fringed gentian the attention of those who never knew before of its intrinsic beauty and interesting botanical structure. It is now being gathered for flower markets and becoming scarcer in meadows.

The epigæa, the gentian and other fast disappearing flowers, though difficult of cultivation, should be choicely guarded in wild flower reservations, which should be to the plants of America what the large country estates are to those of England. The Sharon Biological Purple Fringed-orchis (Habenaria psycodes). Observatory controls three hundred acres of land in Massachusetts which serves as a preserve for native plants and animals. All the deciduous trees of the state and also the native flowering plants are now growing there under protection. As people become more and more devoted to nature study; when they see how much more beautiful the plants are in their haunts than in a wilted bouquet; when they gain more knowledge of botany and know the plants intimately, learning in what ways they struggle for existence; they will not need to be asked not Swamp Rose-Mallow (Hibiscus Moscheutos). to destroy the plants needlessly, but will unite themselves with the 'enlightened few' until they become the enlightened many. Then the gentian, the sabbatia, the epigæa, the orchids and other delicate plants, ill fitted to struggle for existence, but not necessarily unworthy to survive, will be protected and mutual aid will become a factor in their evolution.

Plant preservation depends partly upon the natural adaptation of plants to their environment and partly upon the attitude of people toward them. The very absence of beauty in some plants renders them unlikely to be destroyed by too much picking, while the strikingly beautiful ones fall prey to thoughtless collectors. Others, on account of their protective coloration, escape the notice of wild flower gatherers or browsing cattle. The disagreeable odor of the skunk cabbage, the bitter taste of the crowfoots, the poisonous properties of various members of the parsley and nightshade families, and the stinging glands of the nettles prevent animals from repeating unpleasant experiences with them.

The power to produce, through a long season, many flowers, bearing many seeds, well adapted for dissemination and germination, under ordinary conditions, is the height of plant differentiation for preservation of species. A consideration of some New England wild

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

flowers will serve as specific illustrations of the way in which plants are self protected and the reasons why they require other aid in order that preservation may be insured.

In the early days of April the bloodroot pushes itself through the ground, each flower-bud rolled in a green leaf. The leaf unrolls somewhat; the flower pushes itself through it up into the air. The delicate calyx drops off and the corolla of pure white petals spreads itself out surrounding a cluster of golden yellow stamens, in the center of which is the pistil. After a few days the stamens wither up, the petals drop off and the pistil, if fertilized, remains, growing larger and larger until the ovules within it are matured. Then the work of the plant, along the line of perpetuation of its kind, is over for a year. The unfolded leaves expand more and more on their lengthened petioles and spread themselves out into the light and air. They then continue to act as organs of great activity in the vegetative work of the plant. Through them carbon dioxide and oxygen are taken in from the air and united, in the green cells, with water and nitrogenous matter absorbed from the soil by the root hairs. The carbon dioxide and water unite to form carbohydrates such a starch and sugar, and oxygen which is given off as a waste product. The carbohydrates and other food products, proteids manufactured in the leaves, are transported to regions of growth, such as buds, or places of storage, like underground stems. Before being transported to growing points, the insoluble products are digested or changed to soluble forms, starch being changed to sugar and then transformed into various plant tissues. If carried to storage regions they are first converted back into insoluble forms,

Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium spectabile).

such as starch, and then stored up to supply energy for the rapid development of the next spring.

Picking the flowers of the bloodroot destroys the only possible chance of those particular flowers producing seed which may be able to survive and reproduce their kind. Destroying the leaves or the rootstock interferes with subsequent growth of the plant.

Herbaceous perennials, that is soft-stemmed plants which live on and produce flowers season after season, die down to the ground each fall and in the spring send forth shoots from the buds which are just under the surface. Those which blossom earliest have the largest underground storehouses. The Solomon's seal, ginseng, anemone, violet, bellwort, irillium and iris liavo underground rootstocks which provide energy for rapid development in the spring. The adder's tongue and other lilies, the claytonia or spring beauty, and the jackin -the-pulpit have bulbs or corms deep down in the ground which serve as storehouses for plant food. They send up in the spring a few comparatively large leaves and a single scape of flowers which can be picked without doing much damage to the plant itself. The jack-in-the -pulpit, however, grows in moist soil and is easily uprooted. The mayflower (epigæa), and the twin-flower (linnæa) both have slender, rather woody creeping rootstocks which are frequently torn up when the blossoms are broken off rather than cut off.

The late blooming perennials suffer less by picking than those plants which blossom earlier, for their vegetative work for the season is nearly completed when they become attractive and subject to injury. The woody perennials, shrubs and trees, form buds in the axils of their leaves and at tips of branches. The buds increase in size during the summer and the next spring become swollen as the sap from the stem rises in them. Then they burst open and develop into new branches bearing leaves and flowers. If the twigs are broken off the growth of several years and also the buds, promises of new branches, are destroyed. The rhododendron, magnolia, mountain laurel, flowering dogwood and other attractive early blooming shrubs suffer in this way. The gathering of mountain laurel for winter decorations destroys quantities of buds which would have developed into beautiful clusters of blossoms in the early summer. Careful cutting or pruning of a shrub or tree is nevertheless advantageous to it, checking an over exertion on the part of the plant, which is necessary to flower production, and thereby strengthening the parts which remain.

Annuals are herbaceous plants which live but one year, dying after the maturing of the seed. Their only means of perpetuating their race is through the production of seed. Wholesale plucking of their blossoms will, therefore, lead to their extermination. The fringed gentian, and the pink sabbatia are among these plants. They are very difficult to transplant and local in distribution. The painted cup, known in the west by the better name of painter's brush, is also an annual, and exhibits a sign of weakness in parasiticism of its roots. These plants call for special protection. Careful cutting of few blossoms from the portions of a plant where they are thickest is often a benefit to the flowers which remain, giving them additional energy for the production of fruit which is more exhausting to the plant than production of flowers.

Notwithstanding the inroads that are made upon violets they thrive and increase in numbers. One reason for this is that they have hidden underground flowers which do not open, but in which self-pollination is effected and seed produced, giving the violet an extra means of reproducing its kind. The fringed polygala is also provided with these hidden flowers. Many of the so-called weeds, plants which have been accidentally introduced into this country, are so well fitted for the struggle for existence that they have successfully combated against unnatural environment and have increased enormously in numbers and geographical distribution. Many of these, as the daisy (white weed), chickory, dandelion and the thistle, as well as the native golden rods and asters, are members of the compositæ family. This group is represented by over 10,000 species, comprising one tenth of all the seed plants, each represented by many individuals of a wide range. This family of plants is the most highly differentiated. Numbers of small flowers are arranged in compact heads or clusters, presenting a complete organization in which there is a division of labor among the members of a head. They present various contrivances for cross-pollination and various adaptations of the calyx into agents for seed dissemination.

In the early summer the fields are white with daisies, which later are replaced by the golden rods. Their

Midas touch hath turned the hind to gold
For us to have and hold.

Quantities of golden rod, as well as daisies, asters, golden-ragwort, chicory, fleabane and rudbeckia can be gathered without causing any serious reduction in their numbers. The desire to possess armfuls of flowers is thereby gratified, as is also the farmer who counts these plants as pests.