Golden Rod and
Asters by Jane
Do you know that flowers, as well as people, live in families? Come into
the garden, and I will show you how. Here is a red rose: the beautiful
bright-colored petals are the walls of the house,—built in a circle,
you see. Next come the yellow stamens, standing also in a circle: these
are the father of the household,—perhaps you would say the fathers,
there are so many. They stand round the mother, who lives in the very
middle, as if they were put there to protect and take care of her. And
she is the straight little pistil, standing in the midst of all. The
children are seeds, put away for the present in a green cradle at their
mother's feet, where they will sleep and grow as babies should, until by
and by they will all have opportunities to come out and build for
themselves fine rose-colored houses like that of their parents.
It is in this way that most of the flowers live; some, it is true, quite
differently: for the beautiful scarlet maple blossoms, that open so
early in the spring, have the fathers on one tree, and the mothers on
another; and they can only make flying visits to each other when a high
wind chooses to give them a ride.
The golden-rod and asters and some of their cousins have yet another way
of living, and it is of this I must tell you to-day.
You know the roadside asters, purple and white, that bloom so
plenteously all through the early autumn? Each flower is a circle of
little rays, spreading on every side: but, if you should pull it to
pieces to look for a family like that of the rose, you would be sadly
confused about it; for the aster's plan of living is very different from
the rose's. Each purple or white ray is a little home in itself; and
these are all inhabited by maiden ladies, living each one alone in the
one delicately colored room of her house. But in the middle of the aster
you will find a dozen or more little families, all packed away together.
Each one has its own small, yellow house, each has the father, mother,
and one child: they all live here together on the flat circle which is
called a disk; and round them are built the houses belonging to the
maiden aunts, who watch and protect the whole. This is what we might
call living in a community. People do so sometimes. Different families
who like to be near each other will take a very large house and inhabit
it together; so that in one house there will be many fathers, mothers,
and children, and very likely maiden aunts and bachelor uncles besides.
Do you understand now how the asters live in communities? The golden-rod
also lives in communities, but yet not exactly after the aster's plan,—
in smaller houses generally, and these of course contain fewer families.
Four or five of the maiden aunts live in yellow-walled rooms round the
outside; and in the middle live fathers, mothers, and children, as they
do in the asters. But here is the difference: if the golden-rod has
smaller houses, it has more of them together upon one stem. I have never
counted them, but you can, now that they are in bloom, and tell me how
And have you ever noticed how gracefully these great companies are
arranged? For the golden-rods are like elm-trees in their forms: some
grow in one single, tall plume, bending over a little at the top; some
in a double or triple plume, so that the nodding heads may bend on each
side; but the largest are like the great Etruscan elms, many branches
rising gracefully from the main stem and curving over on every side,
like those tall glass vases which, I dare say, you have all seen.
Do not forget, when you are looking at these golden plumes, that each
one, as it tosses in the wind, is rocking its hundreds of little
dwellings, with the fathers, mothers, babies, and all.
When you go out for golden-rod and asters, you will find also the great
purple thistle, one of those cousins who has adopted the same plan of
living. It is so prickly that I advise you not to attempt breaking it
off, but only with your finger-tips push softly down into the purple
tassel; and if the thistle is ripe, as I think it will be in these
autumn days, you will feel a bed of softest down under the spreading
purple top. A little gentle pushing will set the down all astir, and I
can show you how the children are about to take leave of the home where
they were born and brought up. Each seed child has a downy wing with
which it can fly, and also cling, as you will see, if we set them loose,
and the wind blows them on to your woollen frock. They are hardy
children, and not afraid of any thing; they venture out into the world
fearlessly, and presume to plant themselves and prepare to build
wherever they choose, without regard to the rights of the farmer's
ploughed field or your mother's nicely laid out garden.
More of the community flowers are the immortelles, and in spring the
dandelions. Examine them, and tell me how they build their houses, and
what sort of families they have; how the children go away; when the
house is broken up; and what becomes of the fathers, mothers, and aunts.