« ÎnapoiContinuați »
in the damp air of that country, than it would be in our land ; a fact of which we may form a good idea, by observing how strong are the odours from the field, or wood, just refreshed by a heavy shower, and which float upon the damp air then evaporating from the surface of the earth.
But the daffodil is a rare wild flower, compared with one which we now find in bloom under hedges and in woods.
The common arum, (Arum maculatum)—better known by its familiar names of lords and ladies, wake robin, or cuckoo pint—has large broad glossy leaves, often marked with black spots. From the centre of these leaves, rises a kind of column, sometimes of a green, or often of a rich violet colour. On this is the blossom, and on this cluster, the bright orange berries which in winter make so conspicuous an appearance, and which, though highly poisonous, are relished by birds. The root of this plant is about the size of a nutmeg, and contains a farinaceous powder, which has been applied to a variety of purposes. In former times, when not only ladies but gentlemen also, were attired in ruffs, so starched and stiff, that on looking at their portraits we wonder how they contrived to bow their heads, a thick starch was much valued ; and clear-starching was regarded as an elegant feminine accomplishment, in which gentlewomen liked to excel, and for the teaching of which they often paid a great price. The starch found in the arum root, was, in those days, highly prized as an excellent stiffener of linen, but the
use of it so irritated and chapped the hands, that the less glutinous root of the wild hyacinth was preferred, when it could be obtained.
The root of the arum, while in the fresh state, is highly acrid, though a favourite food of the thrush; but drying, or any application of heat, dissipates its acrimonious quality, and it is then good for food.
In Portland island, where the plant grows in great abundance, the dried roots are much eaten by the peasantry ; and both there, and at Weymouth, the powder, or flour, derived from them, is sold, and considered as good for making bread as the corn flour. This powder is also sent to London, and sold by the London chemists under the name of Portland sago: in times of famine, it has been very extensively used, instead of flour, by the poor, throughout England. The fresh root is taken as a medicine, both in this country and in France ; and the renowned cosmetic, known by the name of cypress powder, is made from the arum root.
The cranesbills, of which we have seventeen kinds among our wild flowers, succeed each other as the summer advances. The earliest blossoming species is very common now, and may be found until autumn. It is the dove's foot cranesbill, (Geranium molle.) It has a small upright bell-shaped flower, of a deep rosecolour, and round leaves; which, as well as its stems, are so covered with soft hairs, that it is like velvet to the touch. The French also term it, pied de pijeon.
And now, as an old poet sings, the "palms put forth their braverie,” and the early willows are covered with their grey, or yellow cathins, around which, on a bright day, the bees hum perpetually. The willow commonly called palm, is the great round-leaved willow, (Salix caprea,) and its golden balls are a beautiful ornament to the woodland scenery. They are called by country children yellow goslings; and the old custom of decking the houses with the willow branch, in the week succeeding Palm Sunday, is still retained in villages. It is often, also, carried about at this season of the year, as a representation of the palm branches, which the children strewed in the way when our Saviour entered Jerusalem. It is not easy to guess why this tree should have been selected to represent the oriental palm, as it is altogether unlike it. If we except the weeping willow, (Salix Babylonica)—which, though common in this country, is not indigenous,—there is little beauty in the willows generally; but they are very useful trees to the tanner and basketmaker, and are valuable for poles and fences.
The hazel (Corylus avellana) is now decked with its hanging tassels, and the wind, as it rushes on, in playful gusts, through the woods, stirring up the streams, waves also the boughs of the alder, which are becoming covered with their dark gloomy foliage. The alder (Ainus glutinosa) is a sombre tree. Its leaves are singularly glutinous; so much so, that if placed between the teeth, one might fancy, on biting them, that a coating of Indian rubber lay between their two surfaces.
It is a spirit of hope to all:
And countless daisies hear the call.
“It mounts and sings away to heaven,
And 'mid each light and lovely cloud;
And young leaves answer it aloud.
"It skims above the flat green meadow,
And darkening sweeps the shining stream ;
The “showers that water the earth,” alternating with the sunshine and soft airs, render this a month of spring flowers. Primroses, anemonies, and violets are spread like a gay variegated carpet over the woods, and the scentless dog violet, (Viola canina,) with larger blossoms than the darker tinted sweet violet, blooms in great profusion. Its flowers do not, like those of our old emblem of modesty, hide among the leaves, but flaunt gaily on their longer stalks before the breeze.
And now God “quieteth the earth by the south wind," * and all nature looks calmly beautiful. The swallow knoweth the time of his coming, and the voice of the dove is heard in the wood. The hedges are white with the
* Job xxxvii. 17.
blossoms of the early sloe, or black-thorn, (Prunus spinosa.) Its dark brown branches are thick with the snowy wreath, long before the leaves appear, and, as the spring advances, the leaves take the place of flowers. The white blossoms are very beautiful, and very common in the English coppice. The little harsh fruit, in flavour something like the unripe damson, is relished, perhaps, by.none but the school-boy: it is, however, often gathered into jars and bottles, and after lying buried under-ground till winter, makes a very tolerable preserve.
The sloe is much used in the adulteration of port wine, and the leaves are said to be sometimes mingled with the tea-leaf, and sold as Chinese tea. An infusion of the flowers, made by pouring boiling water on them, is a common village medicine.
But leaving the woodland boughs, with their half unfolded beauty, we may pass on to the green lanes where many flowers already grace the hedge-bank. Foremost of these, as most common and conspicuous, are the bright blue flowers of the germander speedwell, (Veronica chamoedrys) sometimes called eyebright and cat's-eye.
Ebenezer Elliott calls it by the former name.
“Blue eyebright! loveliest flower of all that grow In flower-loved England! Flower whose hedge-side gaze Is like an infant's! What heart does not know Thee, cluster'd smiler of the bank, where plays The sunbeam on the emerald snake, and strays The dazzling rill, companion of the road.” The old English names of this flower, were