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Easy Botany, August Wild Flowers


The wild flowers of August have their own distinguishing characteristics. We find the road-sides gleaming and glowing with brilliant colors, and all the tribes of strong-growing and strong-scented plants that prefer the later summer months.

Among others the singular desmodium, or bush trefoil, is interesting from having the leaves and flowers grow on separate plants, quite unconnected apparently, and often some little distance apart.

The large, spreading leaves grow on a stalk as if they had nothing to do with anything else; but the young botanist who may grasp this plume of leaves will find that the root leads along under-ground, till suddenly up comes another plant—a tall stem with panicles of purplish flowers. All these freaks or peculiarities become delightful to the observant eye.

The ground-nut, or wild bean, is a very handsome climber, and peculiar in appearance. The clusters of waxy flowers are rich brown and white, growing very thick, and having the scent of violets. The tubers are often eaten.

The wild kidney-bean is found in copses and along road-sides from Connecticut to Illinois. It climbs high from a perennial root, with clusters of small bright purple flowers.

In rich woodlands in the Middle States and west the pea-nut is very interesting to young searchers. The plant bears two kinds of flowers, the upper ones ripening no fruit, but the lower or under-ground ones bearing the well-known pea-nuts.

Try to find a remarkable plant belonging to the convolvulus family, the wild-potato vine, or "man of the earth." It is not very easily overlooked. Several stems spring from the same root, growing and twining seven or eight feet high. The leaves are large, and of various shapes—heart-shaped, pointed, and fiddle-shaped. Three or four large blossoms, several inches broad, grow in clusters; the flowers are white, with purple in the tube. This remarkable vine is found in sandy fields and by road-sides from Connecticut to Illinois and south.

A large plant grows by the end of an old country bridge near Canaan, Connecticut. The stems are long and stout, and grow from a huge root that weighs fifteen or twenty pounds.

The beautiful August lilies make the fields and meadows gay; the stately pale yellow lily spotted with brown or purple, the darker yellow, and the fiery red lily, contrasted with the white spiranthes, or ladies-tresses.

Now the radiant heads of countless composite flowers are highest and most showy, and a walk or drive along any country road reveals such masses of color as to arrest and enchant the most unobservant eye.

On one woodland road at Orange, New Jersey, the shades of asters, from the deepest violet-blue and purple to the palest lilac, are bewilderingly beautiful, while the splendid varieties of liatris, or button snakeroot, the rose-purple and white ox-eyed daisies and white asters, golden-rod, and the great open-eyed corn-flowers, or rudbeckias, are certainly beyond description.

Try to find the elegant golden asters, which are more rare. At Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at Nantucket, and on the pine barrens of New Jersey, they may be found.

Look for the compass-plant, if you have the command of prairies. It is not pretty, is rough and coarse-looking, but is immortalized by Longfellow. The peculiarity consists in the arrangement of the leaves, the lower and root leaves, which, being very large, spread out on the open prairies, and are disposed to present their edges pointing north and south, thus sometimes guiding the bewildered traveller.

Another beautiful prairie plant, two or three feet high, is found in dry and sandy soils and in rocky crevices. The flowers are numerous, of a beautiful bright blue or bluish-white, and what makes it interesting is that it is supposed to prefer localities where lead ore prevails, and is called lead-plant.

Now is the time for any so disposed to make a collection of herbs, as they are called. In old-fashioned days these herbs were considered great treasures, and cures for many of the ills of humanity. They were tied carefully in bunches, and hung in the garret of the farm-house to dry. The odor of dried herbs comes to me now as I think of a dear old garrets—a favorite play-place of early childhood.

No child familiar with the garret of a country home can ever forget its mysterious charm. But I must remember that I am writing of flowers, and leave the captivating subject of garrets. Multitudes of potent herbs may now be found in the woods, by the road-side, everywhere: tansy, camomile, wormwood, everlasting, wild basil, lavender, germander, pennyroyal, spearmint, balm, peppermint, horehound, hyssop, thyme, rosemary, sage, wild bergamot, catnip, motherwort, comfrey, boneset, thoroughwort, fennel, and many other life-giving plants. They are generally coarse-looking and rough, with strong stems and strong odors, and no beauty, though in some cases the flowers are a pretty blue or rose-color. All these things, even to the summer gathering of herbs for some dear relative, become interesting to the young student, because it is a real pleasure to become familiar with the varieties which are presented in nature's domain, and the homely growths are sometimes of more importance than the ornamental, a consoling thought to such of us as are possessed of but little physical beauty.