July 13, 1834
OUR winter broke up unusually early this year: by the end of February the ground was quite free from snow, and the weather continued all through March mild and pleasant, though not so warm as the preceding year, and certainly more variable. By the last week in April and the beginning of May, the forest-trees had all burst into leaf, with a brilliancy of green that was exquisitely lovely.
On the 14th, 15th, and 16th of May, the air became suddenly cold, with sharp winds from the north-west, and heavy storms of snow that nipped the young buds, and destroyed many of the early-sown vegetable seeds; fortunately for us we were behindhand with ours, which was very well, as it happened.
Our woods and clearings are now full of beautiful flowers. You will be able to form some idea of them from the dried specimens that I send you. You will recognize among them many of the cherished pets of our gardens and green-houses, which are here flung carelessly from Nature's lavish hand among our woods and wilds.
How often do I wish you were beside me in my rambles among the woods and clearings: you would be so delighted in searching out the floral treasures of the place.
Deeply do I now regret having so idly neglected your kind offers while at home of instructing me in flower-painting; you often told me the time would come when I should have cause to regret neglecting the golden opportunity before me.
You proved a true prophetess; for I daily lament that I cannot make faithful representations of the flowers of my adopted country, or understand as you would do their botanical arrangement. With some few I have made myself acquainted, but have hardly confidence in my scanty stock of knowledge to venture on scientific descriptions, when I feel conscious that a blunder would be easily detected, and expose me to ridicule and contempt, for an assumption of knowledge that I did not possess. The only botanical work I have at my command is Pursh's North American Flora, from which I have obtained some information; but must confess it is tiresome blundering out Latin descriptions to one who knows nothing of Latin beyond what she derives through a knowledge of Italian.
I have made out a list of the plants most worthy of attention near us; there are many others in the township that I am a stranger to; some there are with whose names I am unacquainted. I subjoin a slight sketch, not with my pencil but my pen, of those flowers that pleased me particularly, or that possessed any remarkable qualities.
The same plants do not grow on cleared land that formerly occupied the same spot when it was covered with forest-trees. A distinct class of vegetation makes its appearance as soon as the fire has passed over the ground.
The same thing may be remarked with regard to the change that takes place among our forests. As one generation falls and decays, new ones of a different character spring up in their places. This is illustrated in the circumstance of the resinous substance called fat-pine being usually found in places where the living pine is least abundant, and where the ground is occupied by oak, ash, buck, maple, and bass-wood.
The fire-weed, a species of tall thistle of rank and unpleasant scent, is the first plant that appears when the ground has been freed from timbers by fire: if a piece of land lies untilled the first summer after its being chopped, the following spring shows you a smothering crop of this vile weed. The next plant you notice is the sumach, with its downy stalks, and head of deep crimson velvety flowers, forming an upright obtuse bunch at the extremity of the branches: the leaves turn scarlet towards the latter end of the summer. This shrub, though really very ornamental, is regarded as a great pest in old clearings, where the roots run and send up suckers in abundance. The raspberry and wild gooseberry are next seen, and thousands of strawberry plants of different varieties carpet the ground, and mingle with the grasses of the pastures. I have been obliged this spring to root out with remorseless hand hundreds of sarsaparilla plants, and also the celebrated gingseng, which grows abundantly in our woods: it used formerly to be an article of export to China from the States, the root being held in high estimation by the Chinese.
Last week I noticed a succulent plant that made its appearance on a dry sandy path in my garden; it seems to me a variety of the hour-blowing mesembryanthium. It has increased so rapidly that it already covers a large space; the branches converging from the centre of the plant; and sending forth shoots from every joint. The leaves are rather small, three-sided and pointed, thick and juicy, yielding a green liquor when bruised like the common sedums. The stalks are thick and round, of a bright red, and trail along the ground; the leaves spring from each joint, and with them a constant succession of yellow starry flowers, that close in an hour or so from the time they first unfold. I shall send you some of the seed of this plant, as I perceived a number of little green pods that looked like the buds, but which, on opening, proved to be the seed-vessels. This plant covers the earth like a thick mat, and, I am told, is rather troublesome where it likes the soil.
I regret that among my dried plants I could not preserve some specimens of our superb water-lilies and irises; but they were too large and too juicy to dry well. As I cannot send you my favourites, I must describe them to you.
The first, then, is a magnificent water-lily, that I have called by way of distinction the "queen of the lakes," for she sits a crown upon the waters. This magnificent flower is about the size of a moderately large dahlia; it is double to the heart; every row of petals diminishing by degrees in size, and gradually deepening in tint from the purest white to the brightest lemon colour. The buds are very lovely, and may be seen below the surface of the water, in different stages of forwardness from the closely-folded bud, wrapped in its olive-green calix, to the half-blown flower, ready to emerge from its watery prison, and in all its virgin beauty expand its snowy bosom to the sun and genial air. Nor is the beauty of the flower its sole attraction: when unfolded it gives out a rich perfume not unlike the smell of fresh lemons. The leaves are also worthy of attention: at first they are of a fine dark green, but as the flower decays, the leaf changes its hue to a vivid crimson. Where a large bed of these lilies grow closely together, they give quite a sanguine appearance to the waters, that is distinguishable at some distance.
The yellow species of this plant is also very handsome, though it wants the silken texture and delicate colour of the former; I call this the "water-king." The flower presents a deep golden-coloured cup, the concave petals of which are clouded in the centre with a dark reddish-brown, that forms a striking contrast to the gay anthers, which are very numerous, and turn back from the centre of the flower, falling like fringes of gold one over the other, in successive rows, till they fill up the hollow flower-cup.
The shallows of our lakes abound with a variety of elegant aquatic plants: I know not a more lovely sight than one of these floating gardens. Here you shall behold near the shore a bed of azure fleur-de-lis, from the palest pearl colour varying to the darkest purple. Nearer in shore, in the shallowest water, the rose-coloured persecaria sends up its beautiful spikes trailing below the surface; you see the red stalks and smooth dark green leaves veined underneath with rosy red: it is a very charming variety of this beautiful species of plants. Then a bed of my favourite white lilies, all in full bloom, floating on the water, with their double flowers expanding to the sun; near these, and rising in stately pride, a tall plant, with dark green spear-shaped leaves, and thick spike of bright blue flowers, is seen. I cannot discover the name of this very grand-looking flower, and I neglected to examine its botanical construction; so can give you no clue by which to discover its name or species.
Our rice-beds are far from being unworthy of admiration; seen from a distance they look like low green islands on the lakes: on passing through one of these rice-beds when the rice is in flower, it has a beautiful appearance with its broad grassy leaves and light waving spikes, garnished with pale yellow green blossoms, delicately shaded with reddish purple, from beneath which fall three elegant straw-coloured anthers, which move with every breath of air or slightest motion of the waters. I gathered several spikes when only just opened, but the tiresome things fell to pieces directly they became dry. Next summer I will make another attempt at preserving them, and it may be with better success.
The low shore of the lake is a complete shrubbery. We have a very pretty St. John's-wort, with handsome yellow flowers. The white and pink spiral frutex also abounds with some exquisite upright honeysuckles, shrubby plants about three feet in height; the blossoms grow in pairs or by fours, and hang beneath the light green leaves; elegant trumpet-shaped flowers of a delicate greenish white, which are succeeded by ruby-coloured berries. On gathering a branch of this plant, you cannot but be struck with the elegant arrangement of the flowers along the under part of the stalks. The two blossoms are connected at the nectary of each in a singular manner. The Americans call this honeysuckle "twinflower." I have seen some of the flowers of this plant pale pink: on the whole it is one of the most ornamental shrubs we have. I transplanted some young trees into my garden last spring; they promise to live and do well. I do not find any description of this shrub in Pursh's Flora, but know it to be a species of honeysuckle, from the class and order, the shape and colour of the leaves, the stalks, the trumpet-shaped blossom and the fruit; all bearing a resemblance to our honeysuckles in some degree. There is a tall upright bush, bearing large yellow trumpet-shaped flowers, springing from the extremities of the branches; the involucrum forms a boat-shaped cup that encircles the flowers from which they seem to spring, something after the manner of the scarlet trumpet-honeysuckle. The leaves and blossoms of this plant are coarse, and by no means to compare to the former.
We have a great variety of curious orchises, some brown and yellow, others pale flesh-coloured, striped with crimson. There is one species grows to the height of two feet, bearing long spikes of pale purple flowers; a white one with most fragrant smell, and a delicate pink one with round head of blossoms, finely fringed like the water-pinks that grow in our marshes; this is a very pretty flower, and grows in the beaver meadows.
Last autumn I observed in the pine-wood near us a very curious plant; it came up with naked brown stems, branching off like some miniature tree; the stalks of this plant were brown, slightly freckled and beset with little knobs. I watched the progress of maturity in this strange plant with some degree of interest, towards the latter end of October; the little knobs, which consisted of two angular hard cases, not unlike, when fully opened, to a boat in shape, burst asunder and displayed a pale straw-coloured chaffy substance that resembled fine saw-dust: these must have been the anthers, but they bore more resemblance to seeds; this singular flower would have borne examination with a microscope. One peculiarity that I observed, was, that on pulling up a plant with its roots, I found the blossoms open under ground, springing up from the lowest part of the flower-stems, and just as far advanced to maturity as those that grew on the upper stalks, excepting that they were somewhat blanched, from being covered up from the air. I can find no description of this plant, nor any person but myself seems to have taken notice of it. The specimen I had on being dried became so brittle that it fell to pieces.
I have promised to collect some of the most singular of our native flowers for one of the Professors of Botany in the Edinburgh University.
We have a very handsome plant that bears the closest affinity to our potatoe in its floral construction; it grows to the height of two or three feet in favourable situations, and sends up many branches; the blossoms are large, purely white, freckled near the bottom of the corolla with brownish yellow spots; the corolla is undivided: this is evidently the same plant as the cultivated potatoe, though it does not appear to form apples at the root. The fruit is very handsome, eggshaped, of a beautiful apricot colour when ripe, and of a shining tempting appearance; the smell, however, betrays its poisonous nature: on opening one of the fruits you find it consists of a soft pulp filled with shining black seeds. The plant continues in blossom from June till the first frosts wither the leaves; it is far less coarse than the potatoe; the flower, when full blown, is about the size of a half crown, and quite flat; I think it is what you call salver-shaped: it delights in light loamy soil, growing on the upturned roots of fallen trees, where the ground is inclined to be sandy. I have never seen this plant elsewhere than on our own fallow.
The hepatica is the first flower of the Canadian spring: it gladdens us with its tints of azure, pink, and white, early in April, soon after the snows have melted from the earth. The Canadians can it snow-flower, from its coming so soon after the snow disappears. We see its gay tufts of flowers in the open clearings and the deep recesses of the forests; its leaves are also an enduring ornament through the open months of the year; you see them on every grassy mound and mossy root: the shades of blue are very various and delicate, the white anthers forming a lovely contrast with the blue petals.
The wood-cress, or as it is called by some, ginger-cress, is a pretty white cruciform flower; it is highly aromatic in flavour; the root is white and fleshy, having the pungency of horseradish. The leaves are of a sad green, sharply notched, and divided in three lobes; the leaves of some of them are slightly variegated; the plant delights in rich moist vegetable mould, especially on low and slightly swampy ground; the flower-stalk is sometimes naked, sometimes leafed, and is crowned with a loose spike of whitish cruciform flowers.
There is a cress that grows in pretty green tufts at the bottom of the waters in the creeks and small rivulets: it is more delicate and agreeable in flavour than any of the land-cresses; the leaves are of a pale tender green, winged and slender; the plant looks like a green cushion at the bottom of the water. The flowers are yellow, cruciform, and insignificant; it makes a very acceptable salad in the early spring, and at the fall of the year. There are also several species of land-cress, and plants resembling some of the cabbage tribes, that might be used as spring vegetables. There are several species of spinach, one known here by the name of lamb's quarter, that grows in great profusion about our garden, and in rich soil rises to two feet, and is very luxuriant in its foliage; the leaves are covered with a white rough powder. The top shoots and tender parts of this vegetable are boiled with pork, and, in place of a more delicate pot-herb, is very useful.
Then we have the Indian turnip; this is a very handsome arum, the root of which resembles the capava, I am told, when boiled: the leaves of this arum are handsome, slightly tinged with purple. The spathe is of a lively green, striped with purple: the Indians use the root as a medicine, and also as an esculent; it is often eaten by the settlers as a vegetable, but I never tasted it myself. Pursh calls this species Arum atropurpureum.
I must not pass over one of our greatest ornaments, the strawberry blite, strawberry-bearing spinach, or Indian strawberry, as it is variously named. This singular plant throws out many branches from one stem, these are garnished with handsome leaves, resembling in appearance our long-leaved garden spinach; the finest of this plant is of a bright crimson, pulpy like the strawberry, and containing a number of purple seeds, partially embedded in the surface, after the same manner as the strawberry. The fruit grows close to the stalk, completely surrounding it, and forming a long spike of the richest crimson berries. I have gathered branches a foot in length, closely covered with the beautiful looking fruit, and have regretted that it was so insipid in its flavour as to make it uneatable. On the banks of creeks and in rich ground, it grows most luxuriantly, one root sending up twenty or thirty branches, drooping with the weight of their magnificent burden. As the middle and superior stems ripen and decay, the lateral ones come on, presenting a constant succession of fruit from July till the frosts nip them off in September.
The Indians use the juice of this plant as a dye, and are said to eat the berries: it is often made use of as a substitute for red ink, but it is liable to fade unless mingled with alum. A friend of mine told me she had been induced to cross a letter she was sending to a relative in England with this strawberry ink, but not having taken the precaution to fix the colour, when the anxiously expected epistle arrived, one-half of it proved quite unintelligible, the colours having faded nearly to white; so that instead of affording satisfaction, it proved only a source of vexation and embarrassment to the reader, and of mortification to the writer.
The blood-root, sanguinaria, or puccoon, as it is termed by some of the native tribes, is worthy of attention from the root to the flower. As soon as the sun of April has warmed the earth and loosened it from its frozen bonds, you may distinguish a number of purely white buds, elevated on a naked footstalk, and partially enfolded in a handsome vine-shaped leaf, of a pale bluish green, curiously veined on the under side with pale orange. The leaf springs singly from a thick juicy fibrous root, which, on being broken, emits a quantity of liquor from its pores of a bright orange scarlet colour: this juice is used by the Indians as a dye, and also in the cure of rheumatic, and cutaneous complaints. The flowers of the sanguinaria resemble the white crocus very closely: when it first comes up the bud is supported by the leaf, and is folded together with it; the flower, however, soon elevates itself above its protector, while the leaf having performed its duty of guardian to the tender bud, expands to its full size. A rich black vegetable mould at the edges of the clearings seems the favourite soil for this plant.
The scarlet columbine is another of my favourite flowers; it is bright red, with yellow linings to the tubes. The nectaries are more elongated than the garden columbines, and form a sort of mural crown, surmounted with little balls at the tips. A tall graceful plant, with its brilliant waving blossoms, is this columbine; it grows both in the sunshine and the shade, not perhaps in deep shady woods, but where the under brush has been removed by the running of the fire or the axe of the chopper; it seems even to flourish in poor stony soils, and may be found near every dwelling. The feathered columbine delights in moist open swamps, and the banks of rivulets; it grows to the height of three, and even four and five feet, and is very ornamental.
Of Violets, we have every variety of colour, size and shape, lacking only the delightful viola odorata of our home woodlands: yet I know not why we should quarrel with these meek daughters of the spring, because they want the fragrance of their more favoured sisters. Many of your wood-violets, though very beautiful, are also devoid of scent; here variety of colour ought to make some amends for want of perfume. We have violets of every shade of blue, some veined with purple, others shaded with darker blue. We have the delicate white, pencilled with purple: the bright brimstone coloured with black veinings: the pale primrose with dark blue veins; the two latter are remarkable for the luxuriance and size of the leaves: the flowers spring in bunches, several from each joint, and are succeeded by large capsules covered with thick white cottony down. There is a species of violet that grows in the woods, the leaves of which are exceedingly large; so are the seed-vessels, but the flower is so small and insignificant, that it is only to be observed by a close examination of the plant; this has given rise to the vulgar belief that it blooms under ground. The flowers are a pale greenish yellow. Bryant's beautiful poem of the Yellow Violet is descriptive of the first-mentioned violet.
There is an elegant viola tricolor, that blooms in the autumn; it is the size of a small heart's-ease, and is pure white, pale purple, and lilac; the upper petals are white, the lower lip purple, and the side wings a reddish lilac. I was struck with the elegance of this rare flower on a journey to Peterborough, on my way to Cobourg; I was unable to preserve the specimens, and have not travelled that road since. The flower grew among wild clover on the open side of the road; the leaves were small, roundish, and of a dark sad green.
Of the tall shrubby asters, we have several beautiful varieties, with large pale blue lilac, or white flowers; others with very small white flowers and crimson anthers, which look like tufts of red down, spangled with gold-dust; these anthers have a pretty effect, contrasted with the white starry petals. There is one variety of the tall asters that I have seen on the plains, it has flowers about the size of a sixpence, of a soft pearly tint of blue, with brown anthers; this plant grows very tall, and branches from the parent stem in many graceful flowery boughs; the leaves of this species are of a purple red on the under side, and inclining to heart-shape; the leaves and stalks are hairy.
I am not afraid of wearying you with my floral sketches, I have yet many to describe; among these are those elegant little evergreens, that abound in this country, under the name of winter-greens, of which there are three or four remarkable for beauty of foliage, flower, and fruit. One of these winter-greens that abounds in our pine-woods is extremely beautiful; it seldom exceeds six inches in height; the leaves are a bright shining green, of a long narrow oval, delicately notched like the edges of a rose-leaf; and the plant emerges from beneath the snow in the early part of the year, as soon as the first thaw takes place, as fresh and verdant as before they were covered up: it seems to be a shy blossomer. I have never seen specimens of the flowers in bloom but twice; these I carefully preserved for you, but the dried plant will afford but an imperfect idea of the original. You always called, you know, your dried specimens corpses of plants, and said, that when well painted, their representations were far more like themselves. The flower-stalk rises two or three inches from the centre of the plant, and is crowned with round crimson buds and blossoms, consisting of five petals, deepening from the palest pink to the brightest blush colour; the stigma is of an emerald greenness, forming a slightly ribbed turban in the centre, around which are disposed ten stamens of an amethyst colour: in short, this is one of the gems of the floral world, and might aptly be compared to an emerald ring, set round with amethysts. The contrast of colours in this flower is exceedingly pleasing, and the crimson buds and shining ever-green leaves are scarcely less to be admired than the flower; itself it would be considered a great acquisition to your collection of American shrubs, but I doubt if it would flourish when removed from the shade of the pine-woods. This plant appears to be the Chimaphila corymbosa, or winter-green, described by Pursh, with some trifling variation in the colour of the petals.
Another of our winter-greens grows in abundance on the Rice-Lake plains; the plant does not exceed four inches; the flowers are in little loose bunches, pale greenish white, in shape like the blossom of the arbutus; the berries are bright scarlet, and are known by the name of winter-berry, and partridge-berry; this must be Gualtheria procumbens. But a more beautiful little evergreen of the same species is to be found in our cedar swamps, under the name of pigeon-berry; it resembles the arbutus in leaf and flower more closely than the former plant; the scarlet berry is inserted in a scarlet cup or receptacle, divided at the edge in five points; it is fleshy, seeming to partake of the same nature as the fruit. The blossoms of this elegant little shrub, like the arbutus, of which it looks like the miniature, appear in drooping bunches at the same time the ripened berry of the former year is in perfection; this circumstance adds not a little to the charm of the plant. If I mistake not, this is the Gualtheria Shallon, which Pursh likens to the arbutus: this is also one of our winter-greens.
There is another pretty trailing plant, with delicate little funnel-shaped flowers, and a profusion of small dark green round buds, slightly variegated, and bright red berries, which are produced at the extremities of the branches. The blossoms of this plant grow in pairs, closely connected at the germen, so much so, that the scarlet fruit that supersedes the flowers appears like a double berry, each berry containing the seeds of both flowers and a double eye. The plant is also called winter-green, or twin-berry; it resembles none of the other winter-greens; it grows in mossy woods, trailing along the ground, appearing to delight in covering little hillocks and inequalities of the ground. In elegance of growth, delicacy of flower, and brightness of berry, this winter-green is little inferior to any of the former.
There is a plant in our woods, known by the names of man-drake, may-apple, and duck's-foot: the botanical name of the plant is Podophyllum; it belongs to the class and order Polyandria monogynia. The blossom is yellowish white, the corolla consisting of six petals; the fruit is oblong; when ripe, of a greenish yellow; in size that of an olive, or large damson; when fully ripe it has the flavour of preserved tamarind, a pleasant brisk acid; it appears to be a shy bearer, though it increases rapidly in rich moist wood-lands. The leaves come up singly, are palmated and shade the ground very much when a number of them grow near each other; the stalk supports the leaf from the centre: when they first appear above the ground, they resemble a folded umbrella or parasol, all the edges of the leaves bending downward, by degrees expanding into a slightly convex canopy. The fruit would make a delicate preserve with sugar.
The lily tribe offer an extensive variety from the most minute to the very largest flowers. The red martagon grows abundantly on our plains; the dog's tooth violet, Erythronium, with its spotted leaves and bending yellow blossom, delicately dashed with crimson spots within, and marked with fine purple lines on the outer part of the petal, proves a great attraction in our woods, where these plants increase: they form a beautiful bed; the leaves come up singly, one from each separate tuber. There are two varieties of this flower, the pale yellow, with neither spots nor lines, and the deep yellow with both; the anthers of this last are reddish-orange, and thickly covered with a fine powdery substance. The daffodil of our woods is a delicate bending flower, of a pale yellow; the leaves grow up the flower-stalk at intervals; three or more flowers usually succeed each other at the extremity of the stalk: its height is from six to eight inches; it delights in the deep shade of moist woods. This seems to unite the description of the jonquil and daffodil.
A very beautiful plant of the lily tribe abounds both in our woods and clearings; for want of a better name, I call it the douri-lily, though it is widely spread over a great portion of the continent. The Americans term the white and red varieties of this species, the "white" and "red death." The flower is either deep red, or of a dazzling white, though the latter is often found stained with a delicate blush-pink, or a deep green; the latter appears to be caused by the calix running into the petal. Wherefore it bears so formidable a name has not yet transpired. The flower consists of three petals, the calix three; it belongs to the class and order Hexandria monogynia; style, three-cleft; seed-vessel of three valves; soil, dry woods and cleared lands; leaves growing in three, springing from the joints, large round, but a little pointed at the extremities.
We have lilies of the valley, and their cousins the Solomon's seals, a small flowered turk's-cap, of pale primrose colour, with an endless variety of small flowers of the lily tribe, remarkable for beauty of foliage or delicacy of form.
Our Ferns are very elegant and numerous; I have no less than eight different specimens, gathered from our immediate neighbourhood, some of which are extremely elegant, especially one that I call the "fairy fern," from its lightness. One elastic stem, of a purplish-red colour, supports several light branches, which are subdivided and furnished with innumerable leaflets; each leaflet has a footstalk, that attaches it to the branch, of so slight and hair-like a substance that the least breath of air sets the whole plant in motion.
Could we but imagine Canada to have been the scene of fairy revels, we should declare that these graceful ferns were well suited to shade the elfin court of Oberon and Titania.
When this fern first appears above the ground, it is scarcely to be distinguished from the decaying wood of the fallen pines; it is then of a light reddish brown, curiously curled up. In May and June, the leaves unfold, and soon assume the most delicate tint of green; they are almost transparent: the cattle are very fond of this fern.
The mocassin flower or lady's-slipper (mark the odd coincidence between the common name of the American and English species) is one of our most remarkable flowers; both on account of its beauty and its singularity of structure. Our plains and dry sunny pastures produce several varieties; among these, the Cypripedium pubescens, or yellow mocassin, and the C. Arietinum are the most beautiful of the species. The colour of the lip of the former is a lively canary yellow, dashed with deep crimson spots. The upper petals consist of two short and two long; in texture and colour resembling the sheath of some of the narcissus tribe; the short ones stand erect, like a pair of ears; the long or lateral pair are three times the length of the former, very narrow, and elegantly twisted, like the spiral horns of the Walachian ram: on raising a thick yellow fleshy sort of lid, in the middle of the flower, you perceive the exact face of an Indian hound, perfect in all its parts, the eyes, nose, and mouth; below this depends an open sack, slightly gathered round at the opening, which gives it a hollow and prominent appearance; the inside of this bag is delicately dashed with deep crimson, or black spots: the stem of the flower is thick towards the upper part, and takes a direct bend; the leaves are large oval, a little pointed and ribbed; the plant scarcely exceeds six inches: the elegant colour and silken texture of the lower lip or bag renders this flower very much more beautiful to my taste than the purple and white variety, though the latter is much more striking on account of the size of the flower and leaves, besides the contrast between the white and red, or white and purple colours.
The formation of this species resembles the other, only with this difference, the horns are not twisted, and the face is that of a monkey; even the comical expression of the animal is preserved with such admirable fidelity, as to draw a smile from every one that sees the odd restless-looking visage, with its prominent round black eyes peering forth from under its covering.
These plants belong to class and order Gynandria diandria; are described with some little variation by Pursh, who, however, likens the face of the latter to that of a sheep: if a sheep sat for the picture, methinks it must have been the most mischievous of the flock.
There is a curious aquatic plant that grows in shallow, stagnant, or slow-flowing waters; it will contain a full wine-glass of water. A poor soldier brought it to me, and told me it resembled a plant he used to see in Egypt, that the soldiers called the "Soldier's drinking-cup" and many a good draught of pure water, he said, I have drank from them.
Another specimen was presented me by a gentleman who knew my predilection for strange plants; he very aptly gave it the name of "Pitcher-plant;" it very probably belongs to the tribe that bear that name.
The flowers that afford the most decided perfumes are our wild roses, which possess a delicious scent: the milk-weed, which gives out a smell not-unlike the night-blowing stock; the purple monarda, which is fragrance itself from the root to the flower, and even after months' exposure to the wintry atmosphere; its dried leaves and seed-vessels are so sweet as to impart perfume to your hands or clothes. All our Mints are strong scented: the lily of the valley is remarkable for its fine smell; then there is my queen of the lakes, and her consort, the water-king, with many other flowers I cannot now enumerate. Certain it is that among such a vast assemblage of flowers, there are, comparatively, very few that are gifted with fragrant scents. Some of our forest-trees give out a fine perfume. I have often paused in my walks to inhale the fragrance from a cedar swamp on some sunny day while the boughs were still wet with the dew-drops or recently fallen shower.
Nor is the balsam-poplar, or tacamahac, less delightfully fragrant, especially while the gummy buds are just beginning to unfold; this is an elegant growing tree, where it has room to expand into boughs. It grows chiefly on the shores of the lakes and in open swamps, but it also forms one of the attractions of our plains, with its silver bark and waving foliage; it emits a resinous clear gum in transparent globules on the bark, and the buds are covered with a highly aromatic gummy fluid.
Our Grasses are highly interesting; there are varieties that are wholly new to me, and when dried form the most elegant ornaments to our chimney-pieces, and would look very graceful on a lady's head; only fashionists always prefer the artificial to the natural.
One or two species of grass that I have gathered bear a close but of course minute resemblance to the Indian corn, having a top feather and eight-sided spike of little grains disposed at the sidejoints. The sisyrinchium, or blue-eyed grass, is a pretty little flower of an azure blue, with golden spot at the base of each petal; the leaves are flat, stiff, and flag-like; this pretty flower grows in tufts on light sandy soils.
I have given you a description of the flowers most worthy of attention; and, though it is very probable some of my descriptions may not be exactly in the technical language of the correct botanist, I have at least described them as they appear.
My dear boy seems already to have a taste for flowers, which I shall encourage as much as possible. It is a study that tends to refine and purify the mind, and can be made, by simple steps, a ladder to heaven, as it were, by teaching a child to look with love and admiration to that bountiful God who created and made flowers so fair to adorn and fructify this earth.
Farewell, my dear sister.