stitchwort



stitchwort defined in 1912 year

stitchwort - STITCHWORT (Stellaria holostea);
stitchwort - The flower of the Stitchwort seems actually to embody a faint light, to be indeed a "blossom wrought of moonshine, pale and fair." It made a special appeal to that intense lover of Nature, Richard Jefferies. "There shone on the banks," he says, "white stars among the grass. Petals delicately white in a whorl of rays - light that had started radiating from a centre and become fixed - shining among the flowerless green. . . .

Full of their ideal, the starry flowers strained upwards on the bank, striving to keep above the rude grasses that pushed by them; genius has ever had such a struggle. The plain road was made beautiful by the many thoughts it gave - I came every morning to stay by the star-lit bank."

The leaf-blades, long and narrow, and tapering to fine points, are stalkless, and arise in pairs directly from the fragile, brittle flower-stems. In fact, so closely do the Stitchwort's leaves resemble the grass among which they grow that they are almost unrecognisable among it. The fine stalks threading through the grass are equally unobtrusive, and hence by its flowers, and its flowers alone, does this plant make itself realised by us.

Each flower is a ten-rayed star, for though there are only five petals in the corolla, every one of these is deeply cleft and thrown backwards. Alternating with the petals and outside them are five sepals, all quite single and separate. Inside the petal-ring are the stamens, ten of them, really set in two rows, the inner ring alternating with the outer, i.e. the outer ring is opposite the sepals, the inner ring opposite the petals.

Now this flower has, for a flower, a somewhat eventful life marked off into four epochs, each epoch of one day's duration. When the flower opens the five stamens in the outer ring are standing erect, mature, and offering their pollen. The five stamens in the inner ring are not yet ready, and are hiding somewhat below; in the very centre of the flower five green columns stand unheeding and close-pressed together. Honey lies waiting ready at the bases of the five erect stamens for the calls of the spring visitors. These are very varied, for bees, moths, beetles, flies and butterflies all seek the Stitchwort's yellow nectaries. Next day these stamens wither, bending away towards the circumference of the flower, and oftentimes the whole of their pollen-bearing heads fall and disappear, but their place is taken by the inner ring of stamens, which have grown somewhat and now stand erect.

All day long they, in their turn, offer the pollen for the cross-fertilisation of other flowers, paying the messengers who carry it with wages of honey. The third day they also fall outwards, but they do not wither and lose their heads as the first five did, but instead they continue to present pollen as long as the flower itself lasts. But the next day - the fourth - the central columns, which meanwhile have come to stand separately and have been waiting to receive fertilising pollen from outside sources, curl over backwards towards the stamens, and touch the exposed pollen so that some of it passes to their receptive surfaces. If they have been already fertilised a second baptism of pollen cannot hurt them, while if they have not been lucky in this respect, then the omission is now repaired at the eleventh hour, and all is well and their seeds will "set." As soon as the flower begins to wither its stalk bends so that it is carried a little out of range, and no dying petals disturb the brilliancy of the star clusters, for it is on the effectiveness of the massing together of many flowers that this plant relies for its attractive powers.

The fruit, which begins at once to form, proceeds to develop into small green capsules containing a number of seeds. As it ripens the stem droops still more as if it were fading. A hedgebank with masses of Stitchwort upon it - at this stage a sickly green with drooping fruit - has now a particularly demoralised appearance. When the capsule is about the size of a pea it splits and the little orange seeds drop out, and by the end of June or the early part of July the Stitchwort's effective work for the year is over.

The Stitchwort's fragilely built flowers are very sensitive to the weather. As rain comes on one can watch the stars fading out of meadow and hedgerow, for the delicate stems droop and the white faces of the flowers are held downwards so that the rain descends comparatively harmlessly on their backs. Thus is the pollen protected from harm.

It is worth noting that the margins of the leaves are fringed with minute hairs, and that the upper part of the stem has a similar slight clothing, though the plant as a whole is smooth. The stems are buadrangular and rather feeble, claiming a good deal of support from the grass in which they grow.

As to its name, we find that it is almost universally known as Stitchwort - the plant to cure the "stitch." "They are wont to drink it in wine with the powder of acornes against the paine in the side, stitches and such like," says an old writer. Starwort, however, is a not unfamiliar title. Formerly it was known as " All Bones," probably satirically, because its brittleness caused it to break at every joint when pulled. Perhaps a similar idea leads the folks in the North of England to call it "Deadmen's Bones." The Welsh refer to it as "Bird's Tongue," in allusion to the shape of the leaf, but the old country name of "Adder's Meat" is difficult to explain. Why it should have been known as "the flower of sorrow" is also not very plain, though undoubtedly the fragile white stars bowing under threatening skies suggest grief under trial and appeal to our pity.

There are seven Starworts, or Stitchworts, in our English flora - the Water, Wood, Bog, and Marsh Starworts, the Chickweed and the Great and Lesser Stitchworts - the Great Stitchwort being the subject of our illustration and sketch. They are all included in the family group of the pinks, catchflies and campions, namely, the CaryophyllaceƦ.

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