germander speedwell defined in 1912 yeargermander speedwell - GERMANDER SPEEDWELL (Veronica chamædry);
germander speedwell - The Germander Speedwell is a very type of the fleetingness of beauty. A poet once said of it: -
"Blue eyebright, loveliest flower that grows
In flower-loved England";
but even if this be strictly true, which is doubtful, we know it is a loveliness realised by comparatively few. "The violet and cowslip, blue bell and rose are known to thousands - the Veronica is overlooked.
The ploughboys know it, and the wayside children, the mowers, and those that linger in fields, but few else!" wrote Richard Jefferies. Still, there is a very natural reason for this oversight. Charming as are the masses of blue by the roadside, alluring as are the sapphire eyes that look back at us from the depths of the grass, yet try to take a handful home so that its beauty may remain awhile with us, and behold! it vanishes, and only a few buds and a bunch of rather rough-looking leaves are left. The truth is that the fugitiveness of its brilliancy is the cause of its being ignored, for the flower will not bear handling, and so lightly attached is the brilliant petal-ring that the least withering, the least jarring, shatters the attachment, and it slips away. Hence in Norway the plant is often derisively called "Man's Faith."
Nevertheless the Speedwell is also taken as an emblem of woman's fidelity, for it is dedicated to St. Veronica, hence its first botanical name, and with more reason than is often the case in the dedication of a flower. Everyone knows the legend of St. Veronica and how she gave a cloth to the Saviour to wipe the sweat from His brow on the way to the Cross, and how the cloth ever after bore the imprint of His face. Now, long ago, when the doings of the saints were more familiar to countryfolk than they are to-day, it was popularly said that the white centre of the flower, which stands out so vividly in the midst of the blueness, was the sign of the holy handkerchief, and hence the flower was sacred to and named after the saint. The second botanical name, "chamædrys," was explained to us long ago by Gerard. " The Germander, from the form of the leaves like unto small oak leaves, had the name chamædrys given it, which signifieth a dwarf oak," though to us the comparison seems rather far-fetched. Gerard always calls it the "Germander" pure and simple, without the "Speedwell." He gives "Paul's Betony" as a less used alternative name, and says that in Wales it is known as "Fluellen the Male." The Welsh, touched by the purity of its blue, have also known it as the "Eye of Christ," and the Devonshire children have had much the same thought when they called the little round blue flowers "Angels' Eyes," and so had the poet when he spoke of it as "the flower whose hedge-side gaze is like an infant's." Its frequent name of "Eyebright" - Keats knew it thus - "The trembling Eyebright showed her sapphire blue" - -more properly belongs to the Euphrasia; "Cat's Eye," which has in it a reference to the white centre, and "Bird's Eye " are also common country names. From a botanical point of view the Speedwell is a surprise to the non-scientific person, for the botanist insists that it is a member of the Scrophulariaceæ family, and that its nearest relatives are such flowers as the foxglove, toad-flax, snapdragon, musk, calceolaria and other plants apparently hopelessly different. The non-scientific man retorts that the family traits in perfection are five sepals, five petals, five stamens, and two carpels, and that the only point in which the Speedwell conforms to these is in having two carpels, a characteristic shared by many plants admittedly far enough removed from this family. For the Speedwell has four deep clefts in its calyx tube, and apparently only four petals united in its corolla, and certainly only two stamens project from the petal-ring. The botanist gets out of the difficulty ingeniously; he admits there are only four sepals, but says that one has been suppressed; that there are only four petals to be seen he agrees, but asserts that the upper big one is really made up of two joined together; the two stamens, too, cannot be gainsaid, but he declares three have aborted! The whole explanation sounds almost too ingenious; one feels one could place any plant into any family one wished by such a method, but the scientist justifies his position by tracing links through all stages among the flowers of this curiously assorted family.
As to the contention that the foxglove, snapdragon, and so on have all very irregularly-shaped corollas, a closer look shows that that trait is also shared in a minor degree by the Speedwell, for the lowest petal is distinctly smaller than the others. On either side of the big, double top petal a little stamen stretches outwards, like a horn. The flower is in a more or less vertical plane, and when an insect approaches it grasps the stamens with its front legs to perch on; they are thus drawn forwards and inwards, so that they dust the under side of the insect with their pollen. He steadies himself for a moment or two, probing the flower for the honey round the ovary, and then flies away. Now since the stamens in any flower do not discharge their pollen until after the projecting stigma has been ready for some time to receive it, and since the stigmas also rub on the insect's abdomen, it is obvious that the chances are that it will be fertilised from some neighbouring flower before its own pollen is ready for use.
We have already noted how short and precarious a life the flower of the Speedwell has, and that when its petal-ring falls it carries off the stamens with it. Kerner points out an interesting fact in connection with this matter of cross-fertilisation, and he specially refers to the Speedwells. He says, "In the mountainous districts of the temperate zones it often happens that rainy weather sets in just at the time when the flowers are about to open, and that it lasts for weeks. Humble and hive-bees, butterflies, and flies retire to their hiding-places, and for a considerable time cease to pay any visits to flowers. The growth of the plants is not, however, arrested during this period, and even in the flowers themselves development quietly progresses if the temperature be not too low. The stigmatic tissue becomes receptive; the anthers attain to maturity, dehisce, and liberate their pollen notwithstanding that no ray of sunshine penetrates the clouds and that rain falls continuously. In such circumstances the mouth of the flower is not opened, autonomy (i.e. self-fertilisation) takes place in the closed flower, and all the adjustments evolved with the object of ensuring cross-fertilisation are ineffectual."
The minute ovary is divided into two chambers, each containing several seeds; it matures into a flattened capsule, notched at the top, which opens round the edges by two valves. The seeds are supposed to be specially good for the food of singing birds.
The Germander Speedwell is one of those plants which close at night and open in the morning. It is curious to watch towards sundown the brilliancy fading out of the blue patches on the roadside, and the return to brilliancy in the early morning. James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, speaks of the evening "when the blewart bears a pearl," and indeed, since the under side of the petals is pale and pearly instead of bright in hue, it is true that, when the flower closes, we have a drooping pearl rather than an azure eye. The flower also closes before and during rain.
The stem is weak and creeping at its base, but raises itself, perhaps a foot, to carry up the flowers which are massed together to be more attractive.
On the stem are two lines of long hairs - regular hedges - running down between each pair of leaves; the rest of the stem is almost smooth. These lines of hairs are barriers designed to check the advances of unwelcome crawling insects.
The leaves, arranged in pairs alternating one with another, have notched margins, and are rather rough and hairy. As summer passes they are sometimes attacked by a gall-mite - Cecidomyia Veronica - and white galls like white buttons are the result on the ends of the shoots, the whiteness being due to hairs on the back of the folded leaves.
The Germander Speedwell has a certain amount of astringency in it, so that "tea" has been made of an infusion of its leaves. Culpepper recommends it for strengthening the brain and the apprehension, and as a remedy for cramp, dropsy, ulcers, and, in the form of oil, for weak eyes. He gives also two curious properties. Firstly, it is "most effectual against poison of all serpents, being drunk in wine and the bruised herb outwardly applied," and, secondly, that "the juice of the leaves dropped into the ears kills the worm in them!" Old writers of all countries speak highly of the virtues of the Speedwell; it cured smallpox and measles, cleansed the blood, was valuable in kidney diseases and a sovereign remedy for all wounds; in fact, it was a panacea for all ills.
This plant is the last one which Parkinson includes in his "Garden of Pleasure," and then, rather as an afterthought: "Lest Germander should be utterly forgotten as not worthy of our garden seeing many ... do border knots therewith, let me at least give it a place, although the last, being more used as a strewing herb for the house than any other use."
There are no fewer than sixteen varieties of Speedwell in the British flora, some of them having white or pinkish flowers instead of blue.
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