ragged robin defined in 1912 yearragged robin - RAGGED ROBIN (Lychnis flos-cuculi);
ragged robin - "When St. Barnabie bright smiles night and daie,
Poor Ragged Robin blossoms in the haie,"
Says the old rhyme, and it is true that the Ragged Robin is essentially a June flower, and that St. Barnabas' Day - June nth - sees it in all its glory. Down in the soggy meadow, through which the stream sluggishly finds its way, the bright rose-pink flowers stand "cheek by jowl" with the lady's smock, the cotton grass, and the buttercups; while yellow iris and forget-me-nots are at the water's edge near by. Its brother, the red campion, is partial to damp quarters, but Ragged Robin has this taste in an intensified degree, so, as it also loves the "haie," to be sure of finding it we must look for it in hay meadows that are by river or stream. Among the tall grasses its bright pink flowers make brilliant spots of colour and justify its Latin name - Lychnis, a torch - though doubtless the torch idea originated with its relative, the evening campion, whose gleaming white petals open towards evening and show as white spots of light in the dusk.
If the flowers are to be seen at all they must be carried above the grass, so the Ragged Robin stems grow a couple of feet or more high, but the plant has no intention that they shall form a ladder by which small insects can creep up and burgle the gay flowers, so they are clothed in their lower part with short hairs, while the top part is coated with a sticky substance. This double measure of precaution is somewhat unusual, for, as a rule, a plant finds that hairs are sufficient to bar the way up, but in this case, if by chance a small fly gets beyond them, it is impossible for it to traverse the sticky path beyond. If it tries the feat it is apt to die in the attempt. Altogether there are six species of Lychnis growing wild in our country, and four of them cultivate this viscidity; only the tiny Alpine Lychnis, which, being merely six inches high, finds no necessity for it, and the corn cockle, which prefers to provide a thicker coat of down, are without it.
The few leaves possessed by the plant are in pairs, and are long and narrow - others would have no chance among the grass stalks.
A loose cluster of flowers tops every stem. Each flower has a red calyx cup marked by ten firm ribs, for a strong supporting calyx is a necessity where the petals have long and fragile limbs and are not united among themselves. These curious ragged petals are a distinguishing feature, and remind us of the rags and tatters of a beggar. It is as if the petals of the red campion - "Robin Hood" - had been torn into shreds, and hence Robin Hood became Ragged Robin. The children, however, sometimes look at it from quite a different point of view, and they recite: -
"A man of taste is Robinet, a dandy spruce and trim,
Whoe'er would dainty fashions set, should go and look at him.
Rob scorns to wear his crimson coat as common people do:
He folds and fits it in and out, and does it bravely, too.
Oh! Robin loves to prink him rare with fringe and flowers and all,
Till you'd take him for a lady fair just going to a ball.
Each petal is cut into four segments; two longer central ones, and one spreading on either side. In the centre are two tiny white streamers. Why this peculiar arrangement should have been adopted it is impossible to say; even Lord Avebury, who finds reason in most things, queries the meaning in his latest book on British, wild flowers. Certainly it makes for distinction, for no other flower in the British flora is like it.
The grey-looking stamens are ten in number, five long, five shorter; the five outer ones that stand alternately with the petals ripen first. Deep down in the flower, by the bases of the stamens, honey is found, but only an insect with a long proboscis can reach it. Therefore, butterflies and bees are the visitors specially invited, and ants and flies carefully excluded, as they could only be unprofitable guests. There is no scent, for the flower is gay enough to do without it. Flowers often economise in this matter, and are content with possessing two out of three possible means of attraction - colour, honey, scent. Thus the dog rose has colour and scent, but no honey; mignonette, honey, scent, and no colour; and Ragged Robin, colour, honey, and no scent.
The seed case in the centre is a single chamber composed of five carpels and crowned with five columns. After fertilisation it becomes a globular, dry capsule, which eventually opens at the top by five teeth.
Despite the familiar ring of this plant's name the plant itself seems to play little part in countryside traditions. Culpepper, writing in 1653, refers to it incidentally among the red campions as one of a bright red colour, "cut in at the ends more finely, which makes the leaves (i.e. petals) look more in number than the others," and, since he found a use for everything, he said they all belonged to Saturn, and that it is "found by experience that decoctions of the herb, drunk in white or red wine were valuable for staying bleeding both inward and outward," also "two drams of the seed, drank in wine, purges the body of choleric humours and helps those that are stung by scorpions, or other venomous beasts, and may be as effectual for the plague."
Other names for this plant are "Meadow Campion," "Meadow Pink," "Meadow Lychnis," and the inevitable " Cuckoo Flower," but among the host of "Cuckoo flowers" - every spring flower seems to claim the name in some locality or another - this has its special right to it sealed in its second botanical name, for it is flos-cuculi, the "flower of the cuckoo." It is occasionally known as "Bachelor's Buttons," which is accounted for, on the authority of Anne Pratt, by the fact that a kind of button was formerly worn which was made of pieces of cloth cut somewhat in the form of its petals.
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near ragged robin in Knolik
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