silverweed defined in 1912 yearsilverweed - Silverweed (Potentilla anserina);
silverweed - Gold and silver - gold flowers on silver leaves - this plant of the precious metals lies humbly by the roadsides, braving the dust, washed by the gutter streams. Perhaps its humbleness, perhaps the fact that its beauty is often obscured by dust, are the reasons that it is not better known and more beloved; but whatever be the reason, it is a pity, for it is certainly one of the most choice of our wayside plants.
Its leaves are models of loveliness; each is made up of from six to ten pairs of leaflets with a single terminal leaflet, and each of these leaflets has its margin cut out in a very pronounced, saw-like pattern. In between the big leaflets are tiny ones, the whole forming a compound leaf some four inches long. At the base of every leaf is a membranous structure known as a stipule. The general resemblance of the leaf to that of the tansy has led to the Silverweed being sometimes known as "Wild Tansy." All the leaflets, big and little, are pale green on the upper surface, but on the lower side they are covered with a thick coating of silvery down; so close are the hairs that nothing of the actual surface of the leaf can be seen. It is this silvery underside that gives the plant its popular name of "Silver-weed." A pretty variation of this name - "Argentina" - is found in old herbals. It is almost certain also that to the silvery hairs is due the anserine in its Latin name as well as its English equivalent, the "Goose Potentil," by which it is sometimes known.
And this in spite of Anne Pratt's assertion that the plant is called "Goose Grass," because the silvery foliage is so much relished by geese - of which taste, by the way, there seems little evidence - for one has only to look at one of the leaves in its very early stages, when the leaflets are all tightly folded up side by side and laid by the very thick and downy midrib, to be struck with the similarity of the shimmering down on the back of the bud to the gleaming down that clothes the breast of a goose. Indeed, the very shape of the elongated bud adds to the closeness of the resemblance. The unfolding of these buds is a pretty sight; each leaflet is at first folded precisely in half, and they lie overlapping one another as the tiles on a roof. Then they stretch a little apart, and at this stage the young leaf looks somewhat like a miniature quill feather. As the midrib grows the spaces widen, the leaflets open like books, and reveal the contrasting green within. Still more feathery are they now, but finally they lay themselves out flatly, and the full-grown familiar leaf is before us.
The hairs are intended to protect the under-surface of the leaf from the ill-effects of too much moisture. Water will not "wet" the silvery down and trickles off harmlessly, so the transpiration pores, sheltered by the hairs, are able to continue their functions uninterruptedly. In the Silverweed the leaves spring in a clump from the root, and from this tuft runners are given off which lie along the ground. At certain points along them rootlets go down into the ground, and thus new plants are formed.
The flowers, each on a long stalk, arise in the angles made by the leaves with the stem. They are of the ordinary rose type, this plant being a member of the rose family, but there appears to be a double calyx - a calyx upon a calyx - for outside the single green sepals there are five fringed ones alternating with them, all having silky coats. The petals are also five in number, of fragile texture and a beautiful yellow. Inside are numerous stamens, and in the centre of all a number of ovaries set on the end of the stalk which, in this case, is level, avoiding the hollowing out found in its relative, the rose, and (he raising up characteristic of another relative, the raspberry. The stamens are ready to distribute their pollen at the same time as the stigmas are ready to receive fertilisation, so there is no doubt that it is freely self-fertilised; still, since the flower is visited by bees, flies, and butterflies, it stands a good chance of frequent cross-fertilisation, and thus the strain is kept healthy and strong.
The Silverweed takes a certain amount of precaution with regard to its fragile, beautiful flowers, for it partially closes them at night, and also slightly over-arches the petals when bad weather has to be faced.
As for the fruit, it is after the pattern of the strawberry, without all that makes the strawberry so desirable to us. Instead of the end of the stalk becoming a luscious mass of sweetness and forming a scarlet bed for the little one-seeded fruits to lie upon, as happens in the strawberry, it only enlarges a trifle, and never becomes succulent, so they are all crowded together upon a hard dry mass.
Man has found means to utilise this plant in various ways. In Leicestershire great faith used to be placed in the power of a decoction of it to wash away the pits left on the face by smallpox - of course, a considerable amount of washing was expected! The same decoction also took away freckles, spots, sunburn and pimples; if white wine were used for the decoction it was more powerful; if white wine-vinegar took the place of water its effect was most powerful of all. The Silverweed, too, was a remedy at once to fly to for such as fell, in a literal sense, from high places, for boiled in water and salt, and judiciously drunk, it dissolved clotted and congested blood.
Silverweed has also played a part in nourishing those hard-pressed. Its roots contain a certain amount of starch, and it is said that the Highlanders of Scotland and others were wont to plough them up and roast and eat them, their flavour being not unlike parsnips and very pleasant. For the same reason, too, they have been employed in bread making.
In its generic Latin name - Potentilla - the plant shares in a reflected glory, for it was due to the potent virtues of a near relative, the Potentilla reptans, or cinquefoil, that from long ages the whole genus received its present name.
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