Rambles of a Botanist, from January to October:
What He May Find.
In the winter months there is not much to be found. When spring-time comes we may begin to see the beauties of Nature and of God's creation. Nevertheless, by taking rambles in the winter months of January, February, and March we may be able to see things develop that we could not do at any other time of the year.
If we look about us on our rambles in January we shall find in the woods and dells, by our brook-sides and swampy places budding through the ground Common Butter-bur (Petasite vulgaris), our Common Coltsfoot (Tussilage farfara) sending forth its buds, and the white flowering Coltsfoot (Tussilage petasites) all in full flower. There is a peculiarity about Butter-bur that people seldom notice. They open their flowers at the very topmost floret of the spike and in the centre of the topmost raceme.
In February we find the Hazel or Nut tree in flower. This plant is one the male flowers of which are in catkins, and the flowers of the female in a fine, beautiful blood-red floret and sessile. It belongs to the Linnean system of classification, the twenty-first class, called Manaecia, Mariordelphia order; that is, the male and female live in the same house but in separate compartments. It will repay botanists and herbalists to search the hazel nut trees by the roadsides and in the woods and dales for its female flowers In February, as they may not see them in any other month of the year.
In March the botanist will find the Alder in bloom. This tree, like the Hazel, belongs to the twenty-first class of Linnaeus (the palm willows). They begin to show their yellow flowers in the male plants and the green flowers in the female, which are very beautiful when examined. The willows belong to the twenty-second class of Linnaeus, the male flowers being on one plant and females on another.
In the month of April we are in spring—
"We awake to new life with the coming of spring,
When the lark is aloft on fetterless wing,
When the Thorn and the Woodbine are bursting with buds,
And the throstle is heard in the depths of the woods.
When the verdure grows bright where the rivulets run,
And the primrose and daisy look up to the sun;
When the rainbow of April expands o'er the plain,
And a blessing comes down in the drops of the rain.
Till the herb and the leaf, and the bud and the flower
Shall burst in the fulness of splendour and power;
There's a harvest of knowledge in all that I see,
For a bud or a flower is a treasure to me."
In our rambles in April we shall find in full flower the Oxlip, Common Primrose, the Cowslip, the Common Daisy, and the purple Spring Orchis, all of which give pleasure and beauty to those who seek for health and pleasure.
In the month of May we are still in spring, and during our rambles may hear the botanist sing—
"As I went a-walking one morning in the spring
I heard a merry botanist so sweetly sing,
And as he was singing these words he did say,
There's no life like a botanist's in the month of sweet May.
With the lark in the morning he'll rise from his nest,
And go through the fields when the dew is on the grass,
And when in the woods he'll whistle and sing,
And at night he'll return to his home back again.
He'll go o'er hills and o'er mountains as well
In search of the flowers that there may dwell,
And when he has found them he'll whistle and sing,
There's no life like a botanist's in the months of the sweet spring.
In May we find the Oak trees in full bloom and a large number of the Speedwells, the Bird's Eye Primrose, the dwarf Valerian, and the Hawthorns, and our common Chickweed with its beautiful star-like flowers.
The Dandelion (Leontodon Taraxacum) illumines the moor and pastures of the early year, and holds a store of honey for the little busy bee and those other insects which glitter with wings of the sunbeam across our path. It is a compound flower, and belongs to the class Syngenesia, order Polygamia Aequalis. All its florets are perfect, each having five stamens and one pistil, and producing one seed. The name is from the French "Dent de Lion," a supposed resemblance of its leaves to the lion's teeth. This plant is much valued for its medicinal properties. The leaves are very jagged, termed by botanists pinnatifid. These are eaten in France for salad, and at Gottingen the young roots are roasted for coffee. Linnaeus has given this flower a place in the Horologe of flora, and deservedly so, as it can with certainty be depended upon as to the hour of opening and closing its blossoms, which, according to the "Encyclopaedia of Gardening," by J. C. Loudon, Esq., open at five minutes after five o'clock a.m. and close at nine minutes after eight p.m. Mrs. Hemans and other poets make allusions in their writing to floral dials. The Dandelion is a handsome flower, and needs only to be as rare as the garden anemone to be as much prized. Elliot calls this flower the sunflower of the Spring. The Dandelion's downy ball of seeds is an interesting object. These seeds are admirably adapted for flying in the air, and in them we have another proof of God's wisdom and providence. Each little seed has a provision of bright feathery shafts, so that it is carefully carried away by the gentlest breezes, and thus rendered universal in its growth, for it is enabled to penetrate everywhere by the aid of the wind.
The provision for the seed of this flower has been imitated by man and a machine constructed called a parachute, this machine being intended to enable an aeronaut to reach the earth in safety in case of accident or damage to his flying machine. Persons who have an observant eye can tell many pleasing traits of wild flowers. The student of natural history can see in all such arrangements and properties undeniable testimony that nothing less than infinite wisdom could have formed such interesting orders of life, so singularly gifted to illustrate His great power and teach man gratitude and love to his Creator.
"I walked at silent eve,
When scarce a breath is in the garden bowers,
And many a vision and wild fancy weave,
Midst you, ye lovely flowers;
Ye speak of human life,
Its mystery—the beautiful and brief;
Its sudden fading, midst the tempest strife
Even as a delicate leaf.
And more than all, ye speak
Of might and power, of mercy, of the one
Eternal, who hath strewed you fair and meek to glisten in the sun." —Browne.
In our rambles in June we shall find the Wood Avens and the Water Avens, the Bogbean, and the beautiful Horse Chestnut, and a great many others.
Now we pass from Spring to Summer, and in July we find the earth and everything else covered in all the pomp and glory of the vegetable kingdom, and we may say—
"When rambling through the fields
We see small flowering plant and
Lofty tree by Nature formed with
Virtues mankind's afflictions to subdue.
If all their virtues were but shown
Disease would almost be unknown;
Then let us try with willing mind
To show their virtues to mankind."
I remember being in a place a few years ago, when a man asked me if I knew anything that was good for diarrhoea, for a child was dying with it, although it had only been attacked two days before. I went to the window and said, "You see there some Oak trees; take your knife and slit some of the bark off the trunk, and when you have done so cut all outside off, and you will have the red or inner bark left. Cut that into bits, put it into a pint of boiling water, let it stand for half an hour, and then give the child one tablespoonful every hour until the diarrhoea abates, and it will then be all right." The child was cuied. Also in our rambles in July we may find in our canals, ponds, and swamps the Flowering Rush, the Bulrush, the Greater and Lesser Reed Morce, the Water Arrowhead, the Water Soldier, and many other beautiful plants. On land we find the Wild Celery, Great Burnet, Wood Betony, Meadowsweet, Saw-wort, Great and Lesser Meadow Rue; and on our sea coasts the Wild Centaury, Sea Holly, Sea Buckthorn, and Sea Ewing Grass.
In August we find the Purple Loosestrife, the Bur Marigold, Wild Peppermint, Water Mint, Horse Mint, Red Water Mint, Great Water Dock, and Black Horehound.
In September and October we may see the apple, pear, and other trees in full fruit, all of which make a very pleasant sight. In conclusion, we may say—
"There are thousands who walk o'er this beautiful earth,
From cradle to grave, without knowing its worth;
They see things around them, yet coldly pass by
Without ever asking the wherefore or why."