Arthur Owens Cooke.

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have very much to do.

Both the stems and leaves are covered with tiny hairs. These hairs are
really small hollow tubes ending in a sharp point. When the Nettle
stings you it first pricks the skin with these sharp points, and then a
drop of poison falls from the tube into the wound the point has made.

If you happen to get stung by a nettle do _not_ bathe your hand with
cold water; that will only make the pain worse. While you are waiting
for the pain to pass off remember that in India there are nettles whose
sting causes great pain which lasts for several days. You might be much
worse off, you see!

The small greenish-yellow flowers of the Stinging Nettle grow in long
feathery clusters on stalks which spring from the main stem close to a
pair of leaves.

The young leaves of the Nettle are said to be very nice boiled as
vegetables; I cannot say that I have ever eaten them myself. Years ago
country people used to take a great deal of nettle tea as medicine in
spring. Nowadays they seem to prefer patent medicines from the chemist's
shop. A dye is made from the roots of the Nettle, and another dye from
the stem and leaves. The young leaves or tops, when chopped up, are good
for poultry, especially for turkeys. So nettles are useful, you see - not
merely stinging weeds. The Nettle, too, is a relation of the hemp plant
from which we get our string and ropes.

[Illustration: TRAVELLER'S JOY.]

You may sometimes see or hear of the White, Red, and Yellow Dead Nettle,
but these are not really nettles at all. Their leaves are somewhat
similar, but they are quite different plants.

Hanging over this great patch of nettles by the hedge there is another
weed, the Traveller's Joy, or Old Man's Beard. Its stem has climbed not
only up the hedge, but high into a hawthorn bush which stands there. It
has many small white feathery flowers with a pleasant scent. On each
leaf stem there are usually five leaflets, one at the end of the stem
and two pairs lower down. These leaf stems are long and tough, and it is
chiefly by them that the plant can climb as it does; they twine round
any branch or twig they touch, and give the Traveller's Joy a firm
support. I have seen trees in woods covered with this plant to a height
of twenty feet from the ground.

In the autumn and early winter you would admire the Traveller's Joy as
much as you do now. The flowers will certainly be gone, but each seed
which takes the place of a blossom will have a little plume of silky
white threads attached to it - a sort of feathery tail. These serve as
wings by which the seeds are often carried long distances by the wind.
The seeds of some other plants which we shall see have something of the
same kind.

There is another climbing plant in the hedge, the Large Bindweed or
Convolvulus. To look at it, however, we will go round into the garden
where there is more of it than Mrs. Hammond cares to see. It is
certainly a beautiful plant, with its large three-sided pointed leaves,
and its great pure white bell-shaped flowers - something like the mouth
of a trumpet.

In the farmhouse garden, however, it is certainly a weed - a plant in the
wrong place. We see that at once. Close to the hedge are some gooseberry
and currant bushes, and into these the Bindweed has climbed. The
Bindweed's stems are twined round the stems and branches of the bushes
till they are almost hidden by it, and are bent down by the weight.

[Illustration: LARGE BINDWEED.]

The Bindweed climbs, as we see, by twisting its stem round the tree to
which it clings; but though it is a climbing plant its stems can grow
for a foot or more from the ground without support. Some of the shoots
of the Bindweed are two or three feet away from the stems of the fruit
bushes, but they have grown unsupported till they could reach an
overhanging bough and cling to that.

Every now and then, Dan, who looks after the garden when he has time,
cuts oft all the Bindweed close to the ground, and pulls some of it up
by the roots; but fresh shoots soon appear again. It is of little use to
dig up the ground near the bushes, for the Bindweed is twisted all among
their roots.

You think the Bindweed and the Traveller's Joy beautiful flowers, and
so they are. At the same time these plants are far more troublesome and
dangerous weeds than the Stinging Nettle. Nearly all plants that cling
to other plants do harm; they prevent the stems and boughs to which they
cling from swelling freely. See how tightly the Bindweed stems are
twisted round the boughs of this currant bush. Ivy, Bindweed, and other
clinging plants often kill or seriously injure valuable trees in this



I said all I could to make you admire the Nettle, and to see what a
handsome and even useful plant it is. I am afraid, however, that you do
not care much for it; I do not see that any of you have gathered a
handful to take home. When we go in to dinner presently, if Mrs. Hammond
were to say, "Will you have green peas or nettle-tops?" I believe you
would all say, "Peas, if you please!" So we had better look for a flower
that you may like better. We will go to Ashmead, where the cows are
grazing, and will find some Clover.

Mr. Hammond grows Clover in some of his fields every year. Those of you
who have been at Willow Farm before, and have walked about the farmer's
fields, know this, for we saw the bailiff sowing Clover broadcast.
Besides the fields of Clover, however, there is always plenty of it
growing among the meadow grass. We find some directly we go through the
gate into Ashmead. It is a plant with a bright purplish-red blossom.
Let us sit down and examine it carefully.

The blossom is a little knob, or ball of colour, almost round. It is
made up of a great many little purple stalks, standing upright and very
close together. Pull a few of these stalks from the blossom and put
their lower ends between your lips. They are quite sweet like sugar.
Nearly all flowers contain honey, or rather _nectar_ of which the bees
make honey. Some flowers have much nectar, some less, and some have none
at all; the Clover contains a great deal.

Now look at the leaves; each has three leaflets. If you can find a leaf
with four of these leaflets, the country children will think you very
fortunate, for a four-leaved Clover is said to bring good luck, just
as a four-leaved Shamrock does in Ireland. A four-leaved Clover is,
however, rather rare; I hope you may find one, but I am rather afraid
you will not.

Here is another Clover, not quite so handsome as the Red Clover at
which we have just been looking; the flowers are white, and are rather
smaller. This is White or Dutch Clover. It is a perennial plant, and one
which spreads over a great deal of ground if it is allowed to do so.
We saw, you remember, that the ivy-leaved Toadflax on the wall by the
foldyard steps sent out fresh roots from its stems as it grew. The White
Clover does the same. The stems creep along the ground, send out fresh
roots, and in this way the plant spreads quickly.

Keeping a few stems of both these clovers in our hands we will go a
little further up the lane. There, in a field, we shall see something
that even country people cannot see every day. The Clover which farmers
usually sow is either the Red Clover or the White, or else another kind
called Alsike. This year Mr. Hammond has sown a field with a fourth
kind - Crimson Clover.

Did you ever see a more beautiful sight? The whole field is a blaze of
rich crimson colour. I shall never forget the day I first saw a field
of Crimson Clover. I was so delighted that I asked the farmer - not Mr.
Hammond, but another friend - if he would have a field of it for me to
admire every year! He said he would tell me by and by. At the end of the
year he said he did not find it such a useful food for his animals as
the Red and White Clovers, and he should not sow it again - at least not
very soon. You see pretty things are not always the most useful.

Let us see what differences we can find between the three clovers we
have gathered. We look first at the blossoms. That of the Red Clover is,
as we have said, like a little round ball, or knob. The flower of the
White Clover is of much the same shape, but is less fine. The flower of
the Crimson Clover is altogether different in shape. It has indeed many
small crimson stems, but these do not form a round ball. They are
arranged in the form of a little circular cone or pyramid which is large
at the bottom and pointed at the top.

[Illustration: CLOVER LEAVES. 1. White; 2. Crimson; 3. Red.]

There are other differences. Immediately below the flower of the Red
Clover is a pair of leaves; the blossom is said to be "sessile" or
seated on these leaves. Other leaves, and also other blossoms, grow
on the same stem. Now look at the White Clover. The blossom grows on
a stalk without any leaves or other blossoms on it - only the single
blossom at the top of the stalk. The blossom of the Crimson Clover has
leaves below it.

To-day we easily distinguish one clover from the others by the flowers.
Supposing, however, that we looked at them some day before the flowers
were out; what then? Are there any differences in the leaves? All three
have leaves formed of three leaflets - they are trefoils - but the leaves
are otherwise different.

Those of the Red Clover grow on stems branching from the flower stem,
and sometimes on the flower stem itself. Both leaves and stems are
hairy, and on the leaves there is generally a white mark, something the
shape of a horseshoe.

The leaves of the White Clover grow, like the flower, at the top of the
stem - a single leaf on each stem. The under sides of the leaves are
smooth and glossy. The leaves of the Crimson Clover grow on the flower
stems like those of the Red Clover; but the leaflets are broader and
rounder than the Red Clover leaflets. The Crimson Clover is an annual,
while the others are perennials.

All these clovers are good food for the farmer's animals or stock. The
Red Clover is, perhaps, the most useful. Bees, however, prefer the White
Clover, for they can more easily get at its nectar.

Sheep are exceedingly fond of Clover, but Mr. Hammond is always careful
not to turn them into a field of Clover when they are very hungry,
or to let them stray in by accident. If they got in they would eat it
ravenously, and many would very likely die. Too hearty a meal of Clover
has the same effect on them as a great quantity of new bread would have
on you or me.

We have spent so much time this morning looking at the clovers that we
have only a minute or two to stand at the gate of a field of beans. The
blossoms are pretty - white with dark spots - and they are very fragrant.
A field of beans in flower gives us one of the most delightful of all
country scents.



There are many other flowers besides the Clover in Ashmead to-day, and
this afternoon we will look at some that grow among the grass. One of
these you may perhaps call a weed, yet it is one of the most beautiful
wild flowers in England. I mean the golden Dandelion.

On a lawn or in a garden bed it would certainly be a weed, and a very
troublesome one. Here among the grass we need only think of it as a very
lovely flower. See what a rich golden yellow the little florets of the
blossom are. Plants like the Dandelion, in which the blossom is composed
of a number of florets, are called "composite" plants.

If we examine the plant closely we shall find that each stalk which
bears a blossom, and each long deeply indented leaf, grows, like the
flower-stem and leaf of the Primrose, from a very short underground
stem. It is from the indented leaves that the Dandelion gets its name.
The leaves have something the appearance of the teeth of a lion. Now
the French name for lion's tooth is _dent de lion_, and we English have
corrupted this into _dandelion._

Each flower-stem is round and, when we pull one, we see that it is a
hollow tube. We bite a piece of the stalk as we did with the Clover
blossom. What a difference! The Clover was quite sweet, but the
Dandelion is very bitter. You may not like the taste perhaps, but the
white milky-looking juice is quite wholesome. Dandelion tea and
Dandelion beer are often made by country people, and the leaves give a
pleasant flavour to a salad.

Shall we pull up a plant and examine the root? I am afraid we cannot,
unless you care to go back to the house for a fork or a trowel. The
Dandelion has a very long strong root - tap-root - which goes deep into
the ground; and there is no tall main stem of which we can take
hold - the leaves and flower stalks only break off in our hands.

Here is a stalk from which the flower has fallen, leaving only the seed.
Of what does it remind you? Of the Traveller's Joy in autumn? Yes; the
Dandelion has what is called a "pappus" attached to its seed, rather
similar to the feathery tail of the Traveller's Joy. This makes the
Dandelion a troublesome weed; the seeds are easily carried by the wind
and, if a patch of dandelions is allowed to go to seed, it will produce
fresh plants quite far away. Before the seeds are scattered each head is
like a round white fluffy ball.

Here are daisies, with their dainty white florets often tinged with
pink. In the centre of each blossom is a yellow spot. Every night the
white florets fold up over the yellow centre, and do not open until the
morning. This fact explains to us the Daisy's name; it is the Day's Eye
which opens at dawn and shuts at night.

The Daisy is a little flower which everyone knows and loves, yet in the
wrong place it is a weed. It is a perennial and it spreads very fast. Of
course both perennials and annuals spread by means of their seed, but
perennials also spread in other ways as well. We will see how the Daisy
does this.

There; with my pocket knife I have easily dug up a plant. The root is
small and compact, not long like that of the Dandelion. But, when I try
to lift the Daisy plant from the grass, I find that it is still held
down by a stout tough thread branching from the root. This thread is
connected with another Daisy plant; from that one there is another
thread connected with a third plant. When we have at last got our plant
clear away from the ground, three more are hanging to it by these

That is how the Daisy spreads; it throws out these thread-like shoots
from the root, and from these grow another root and plant. I knew only
too well what we should find; there are far too many daisies in my lawn
at home, and I found out long ago the way in which they spread so fast.
If daisies are allowed to increase in this way they form large clumps
which smother and kill the grass. We notice that each flower-stem and
each leaf of the Daisy springs from a very short underground stem, as
those of the Dandelion do.

Daisies and dandelions are plentiful in Ashmead, and so are the yellow
buttercups. There are, however, not quite so many buttercups as you
might think at first. The real name of what we call the Buttercup is the
Bulbous Crowfoot, and there is also a Meadow Crowfoot in the field. A
third crowfoot is the Corn Crowfoot. To-day we will notice one or two
differences between the two plants we see here.

[Illustration: BULBOUS CROWFOOT.]

The blossoms of both plants have five smooth shining yellow petals.
We see, however, that those of the Bulbous Crowfoot or Buttercup form
a real cup, while the petals of the Meadow Crowfoot spread out almost
flat. The Meadow Crowfoot grows two or three feet high; the Buttercup
is a shorter plant.

The flowers are pretty, but that, I am afraid, is all that we can
say for either of these plants. They are both of them bitter and
unwholesome, and horses and cattle avoid eating them. Some people even
say that to carry a bunch of the stems will make the hands sore; so I
think that we will only look at and admire the flowers where they grow.

The Cowslip is a very different plant indeed and we will not call it a
weed. Even Mr. Hammond is not sorry to see it here; for he is fond of a
glass of the sweet cowslip wine which Mrs. Hammond will make if we busy
ourselves and take home some large basketfuls of the drooping blossoms.
Before we set to work, however, let us examine the plant.

Looking at a stalk of Cowslip blossoms we see something peculiar about
it at once - something unlike the other flowers we have seen. Six or
seven drooping blossoms grow from the stalk we have picked, and they
all grow from the very top of the stalk. The point at the top of the
stalk from which the blossoms grow is called the "umbel."

Each blossom has five yellow petals joined together to form a corolla.
In the centre of the blossom, where these petals meet, each is marked
with a spot of deep orange-red colour. The yellow petals are
comparatively small, and peep out of a long pale green sheath called
the "calyx."

Surely we have seen a flower like this before - the Primrose in the
little coppice. Yes; the Primrose had five pale yellow petals, rather
larger than those of the Cowslip, and joined together to form a corolla;
they grew out of a long green calyx. Also each petal had a spot of
darker yellow in the centre of the blossom. The leaves of both the
Primrose and the Cowslip are much wrinkled, and they grow from a short
underground stem.

But, you say, each Primrose blossom grew alone on the top of a long
stem. Yes, but if we had dug up a Primrose plant, we should have found
that several flower stems grew from the same point - the top of a very
short stem which hardly appeared above the ground. They grew from an
umbel, and the Primrose is closely related to the Cowslip. The
difference is that the blossoms of the Primrose grow on _long_ stems
from a _short_-stemmed umbel. Those of the Cowslip grow on _short_ stems
from a _long_-stemmed umbel.



Here we are in the hay-field at the end of June. It is not really the
hay-field yet, but it will be so as soon as the grass is cut for hay.
This will be done in a few days, so we must lose no time if we wish to
look at some of the flowers before they are cut down.

We must not stroll all over this field as we did in Ashmead, for the
long grass should not be trampled down, or it will be difficult for the
machine to cut. Quite near the gate, however, are plenty of flowers, and
we shall find others if we step carefully along the side of the hedge.

We will look first at those flowers which are most important to the
farmer, the flowers of the grass. We saw, you remember, that the grass
has flowers just as the Rose and the Wallflower have. If you had thought
that the flowers of all grass would be alike, you see now that you were
quite mistaken; there are many different grass flowers here.

[Illustration: SECTION OF GRASS STEM.]

Not only are the flowers different, but so are the stems, and also the
leaves or blades. Mr. Hammond could come into the field in early spring
or autumn, when the grass is not in flower, and could tell you to which
kind of grass any blade belonged. To-day we shall easily distinguish the
different kinds of grasses by their flowers, though we will also notice
differences in their stems and leaves.

Let us pick a stem or culm of grass. We see that the greater part of it
is hollow; but at intervals there are joints, and here the stem is
solid. From each joint grows a leaf-sheath which is wrapped round the
stem for a little distance above the joint. Out of each sheath grows a
leaf. All grass leaves are long and narrow compared with those of most
other plants, but some grass leaves are longer and narrower than others.

Now for a flower. The stem which we have picked is the stem of perennial
Rye Grass. The blossom, we see, consists of several small spikelets;
there are eighteen on our stem. They grow alternately on two opposite
sides of the stem, first one on one side, then one on the other. They
have no stalk of their own; they are sessile or seated on the stem. As
the spikelets are flat and grow on two sides of the stem only, each stem
looks as if it had been pressed in a book, as perhaps you have sometimes
pressed flowers.

The leaves are dark green, glossy and shining. On the under side of each
leaf there is a prominent rib which extends the whole length. This rib
is one of the signs by which Mr. Hammond can tell a blade of Rye Grass
at once without seeing the flower.

This is one of the farmer's most useful grasses. It forms a close thick
carpet or sward, and, the more it is trodden on by animals grazing, the
better it seems to thrive.

Here is another excellent grass, with a flower quite different in
appearance from the last. It is called Timothy Grass. It was first
cultivated in America by a man named Timothy Hanson, and it is now
always known by his Christian name. Mr. Hammond knows this, and now you
know it too; but a good many farmers who have plenty of Timothy Grass in
their fields do not know the reason of its name.

[Illustration: COWSLIP.]


[Illustration: GRASSES. 1. Cocksfoot; 2. Sweet vernal; 3. Meadow
foxtail; 4. Common Timothy; 5. Tufted hair; 6. Common rye grass.]

The spikelets of Timothy are very small and grow in dense clusters at
the end of the stem, so that the blossom forms a kind of tail. Indeed
Timothy is sometimes called Meadow Catstail, a name which gives a very
good idea of its appearance. This cluster or tail of spikelets is green
and also rather rough to the touch. Notice these two points about it; we
shall see the reason presently. The green leaves have a greyish tint and
are broader than many grass leaves. When cut and made into hay, the
leaves are rather stiff and hard.

Timothy grows in good thick clumps, but does not make a very spreading
sward. Moist weather suits it best, though it can stand a dry summer
fairly well. It is a late grass. Other grasses in the field are in full
flower to-day, but there are only a few ears of Timothy to be seen; its
flowering-time is July. In one way it is a valuable grass for hay; it is
heavy, and hay is always sold by weight. On the other hand Timothy hay
is rather hard.

Now here is a grass something like Timothy, yet different in several
ways. It is Meadow Foxtail. The ear formed by the cluster of spikelets
is of the same shape as an ear of Timothy, like a round tail slightly
pointed. But the ear of Timothy was green, while this is a beautiful
silvery grey. Timothy was rough; the ear of Meadow Foxtail is very soft
and silky to the touch. The silkiness and the silvery grey colour are
given to the ear by a soft hair called the "awn" which grows from each
spikelet. The leaves are broad and juicy, and there are many of them.

Meadow Foxtail, unlike Timothy, is an early grass; you may find it
in flower in April. An early grass is always valuable to the farmer,
who wants herbage for his sheep and cattle after the long winter.
The Foxtail, moreover, is a spreading grass. Some of its stems are
prostrate; they do not stand upright but creep along the ground. From
these prostrate stems fresh roots grow and produce fresh plants. Thus
Meadow Foxtail makes a good sward.

Another useful grass is Cocksfoot. Each culm has four or five thick
clusters of spikelets growing on small stalks of their own. The clusters
grow from the culm in a way which reminds us of the claw of a fowl; that
is the reason of the name. Cocksfoot is a tall and quick growing plant,
and both the stem and flower feel rough and hard. The blue-green leaves
are very juicy. The root goes deep into the soil, so that this grass
resists drought well.

We must notice the Sweet Vernal Grass, though there is not much of it in
the field; for this grass, when it is dry, gives out much of the sweet
scent we smell in or near a hay-field. If we chew a stalk, we notice the
scent ourselves, and animals like the pleasant flavour which it gives to
hay. Though it is an early grass it also lasts till late in the autumn.
The spikelets make a cluster or tail at the end of the stalk, but they
do not grow so closely together as those of the Timothy and Meadow

Look at this Tufted Hair Grass. It is very pretty, perhaps one of the
prettiest grasses we have seen; but the farmer looks upon it as a weed.
It has a large and spreading head of flower; the spikelets grow on
stems, and become gradually smaller towards the top of the stalk. The
flower is purple, with a shining silvery light upon it. It grows in
thick clumps or tussocks, and cattle do not care about the leaves.


IN THE HAY-FIELD (_continued_)

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Online LibraryArthur Owens CookeWildflowers of the Farm → online text (page 2 of 4)