wallflower



wallflower defined in 1912 year

wallflower - WALLFLOWER (Cheiranthus cheiri);
wallflower - A long time ago, somewhere in the Middle Ages, the Wallflower came as a visitor to this country and, like many another foreigner, it found the country and climate so congenial that it stayed on indefinitely, established itself firmly, and finally naturalised itself as a British subject. In the place of the cliffs and rocks of its more southern home it has adopted the ruins of castle and monastery, or the ancient walls of some old-time garden, as its home, and there it flourishes in precarious foothold, subsisting apparently on the scantiest of nourishment. Scarcely a ruin is without some spot made gay by it, a spot often inaccessible to man, and records tell us that in certain cases it has held undisputed its coign of vantage for more than three hundred years.

"Flower of the solitary place
Grey ruins golden crown,
That lendest melancholy grace
To haunts of old renown;
Thou mantlest o'er the battlement,
By strife or storm decay'd,
And fillest up each envious rent
Time's canker tooth hath made."
(Moir.)

But though it came as a stranger to this land it found its family, the Cruciferce - that is the "Cross-bearers" - one of those most fully represented among true natives. There are more than sixty different species known here, the majority of them of humble sort - mustards, cresses of many kinds, the cabbages and turnips - though these are but a "drop in the ocean," for it is reckoned there are at least 1,200 species of Crucifers known in the world. None of our truly native species approaches the Wallflower in beauty; it seems as though it brought with it some of the glow of the East and South to queen it over the colder yellows and whites of our northern land.

The plant has a tough and shrubby stem which persists year after year; the leaves, simple, long and narrow, rise alternately first one side, then the other of the stem. Hairs closely pressed down on to the surface cover both stem and leaves, the younger leaves being almost white with them. If they are examined under a microscope it can be seen that they are branched near their base, so that collectively they make a thicker felting, offering more protection, than the same number of single hairs would do.

The handsome, orange-yellow flowers, despite their apparently simple cross pattern, have afforded considerable discussion to botanists; the four sepals, they suggest, are not in one ring, but are rather two pairs on different levels; the four cross-wise petals are what they appear to be - just in a ring, but the stamens are the crux. Botanists do not think that there ought really to be six if the flower had kept true to its original type; there ought to be either four or eight, but whether two out of eight have disappeared during the course of time, or whether two out of four have become duplicated they cannot make up their minds with any degree of unanimity. In the centre where the ovary is obviously now made up of two parts it is suggested there is an amalgamation of four. These points are, however, of little interest except to "systematic" botanists, though the various adaptations we can find in the flower are.

Thus it is to be noted that the sepals are long and stiff, and, though not actually joined, overlap to form a square tube; they have obviously to provide a support for the petals since the lower part of these is whittled away to the narrowest dimensions, quite insufficient to support the spreading claw. At the base of each of the two side sepals is a little pit for honey to drain into and be stored. The honey is actually formed in little glands at the bottom of the two short stamens which stand opposite to these two side sepals, and flows out of them into the pits. The other four stamens stand in two pairs (hence the idea of duplication) between the two shorter ones. Their anthers almost fill the centre of the flower and, as they open inwards, the bee or fly must needs get coated with pollen-dust as it thrusts its long proboscis deep down into the pits for honey. Smaller insects and flies with short probosces who sometimes visit this flower can only feed on pollen, the honey is beyond their reach. An experiment was made to find out how long Wallflower pollen "kept good," - in other words, how long it retained its power to fertilise after it had been taken out of the pollen-box, and it was discovered that it retained it for about fourteen days, as against twenty-six days in the pansy, and thirty-two in the bugle.

The seed-box in the Wallflower is fashioned somewhat like a pea-pod, but is distinguished from it by being divided into two chambers. In the earlier days it is topped by a broad stigma with a deep notch in its receptive surface. As an insect passes its proboscis down to the honey it is bound to lay it on this notch, so that any pollen the bee may bring is at once brought into contact with the right spot for fertilisation.

As the fruit ripens it splits both front and back - a pea-pod simply splits along the front - and the two sides of the "siliqua," as it is called, hang out from the central wall and remain attached only at the top. The seeds, one by one, become loose from their slender stalk and fall out. Unlike peas, they are considerably flattened, and a careful glance will detect that their edges are produced into a thin membrane. Hence they are supplied with a circular wing, which, though it may not be of great effective power, nevertheless helps them to fly farther than they otherwise would from the parent plant.

But the Wallflower is not merely a wild flower. It finds an honoured place in every garden from the cottager's homely one, where its golden-yellow petals shade into deep red-browns, or show as plain russet "dressed like the servant of a village priest" (says Maeterlinck), to the richest grounds of the millionaire, where purples and rose-pinks and other rich shades have been coaxed into them by careful breeding. Its beauty is enhanced by its delightful fragrance. The scent is allied to that of the violets, and this, no doubt, accounts for an old name of the plant being "Yellow Violet." Our forefathers knew it as the "Winter Gillyflower," and the name "Gillyflower" still lingers among country folk.

Though in olden days Wallflowers were esteemed "a singular remedy for the gout" among other medicinal virtues, nowadays these flowers "who sing among the ruined walls and cover with light the grieving stones" are valued only for their rich hues and luscious scent.

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