daisy



daisy defined in 1912 year

daisy - DAISY (Bellis perennis);
daisy - If an Englishman knows and cares for no other flower, he knows and cares for the Daisy.

"Methinks that there abides in thee
Some concord with humanity
Given to no other flower I see,"

says Wordsworth. It stands to him in a special way as the emblem of childhood, innocence and home, while it is pre-eminently the children's flower - the first flower a child is taught to know. All the poets love the Daisy from Chaucer downwards. "It is of all floures the flour," he says, and specially tells us that he had for them "so great affection" that the May Day dawn always saw him walking in the meadows to watch the Daisies opening in the sunshine, and further that " that blissful sight softeneth all my sorrow." He draws for us a charming picture which Dryden put into modern guise:

"A tuft of daisies on a flowery lea
They saw, and thitherward they bent their way;
To this both knights and dames their homage made
And due obeisance to the Daisy paid.
And then the band of flutes began to play,
To which a lady sang a virelay:
And still at every close she would repeat
The burthen of the song: "The Daisy is so sweet."

It is Chaucer, too, who tells us the pretty legend of the good Queen Alceste, who gave up her life that her husband might have immortality. But Hercules rescued her and brought her back to earth in the form of a Daisy, and the number of its white rays is the number of her many virtues. Another legend, keeping still to the idea that the Daisy must have a heroic personality behind it, recounts that one of the Belides - the nymphs who presided over the meadows - was dancing with her lover, a rural god, when she fired the love of Vertumnus, the god of the changing seasons, and he pursued her. To escape him she became changed into the Daisy, hence the name Bellis. But many of these legends are really allegories, and this surely is one, for the Daisy in its apparently fadeless beauty making festive the country from May to Christmas seems beyond the reach of injury from the passing seasons.

Yet a third origin is found for this flower in the Ossian poems. As Malvinia was mourning the death of her infant, the mowers in the fields comforted her by saying they had seen the child borne on light mist strewing the flowers over the meadows " among which rises one with golden disk encircled with rays of silver, tipped with delicate tints of crimson. Dry thy tears, O Malvinia, the flower of thy bosom hath given a new flower to the hills of Cromla."

The Daisy is the signal flag of spring, but spring has not really come until you can put your foot on twelve Daisies, say the country children, and their elders have a rather gruesome superstition that if you omit to put your foot on the first Daisy you see, Daisies will cover either you, or a dear friend of yours before the year is out.

But though everyone knows the Daisy, yet only a few are aware of the complicated processes that go on within the circle of those gleaming rays, for a Daisy, like some very small and delicate watch, has works which are invisible to the naked eye. One has to take the word of a botanist about what is there unless one possesses a magnifying glass. At an ordinary glance we see a yellow disk, almost solid-looking in the centre, but broken up into tiny areas in the outer part. Round this is a ring of some twenty white rays each with two little teeth at the tip. At the back of the flower is a strong sheath of thick green bracts which, without, have a scattered covering of white hairs and, within, hold bitter juices.

No moisture can pass, no small insects bite, through this protecting sheath.

A lens, however, reveals much more than this. Firstly, it shows us that round the yellow disk at the base of the white rays is a ring of little forks, each accompanied by sundry white hairs. The hairs represent the calyx, the white rays are the corollas, and the forks are each the top of a wee column rising from a minute seed-case containing an infinitesimal seed. Therefore every ray represents a flower, but only a flower of one sex - a female flower - for there is no trace of stamens within it. Secondly, it resolves the little areas of the central yellow disk into a large number, perhaps a couple of hundred, of minute florets; those in the outer rings are open, those in the centre are but buds. But each is a perfect flower, consisting of a tube-like corolla, five stamens with heads all joined, and the same minute seed-case and column as in the rays. In the outermost rings there are the little forks standing up, but distinguished here by carrying tiny brushes; in the next few rings pollen balls are at the mouths of the florets; inside this again are the florets just opening at their tips from the bud stage, and then come the closed buds. The surface of the disk of a Daisy is almost level, and this in spite of the fact that these yellow florets are grouped upon quite a steep conical mound found by the end of the flower stalk, but the result is brought about by the outermost rings being tallest and the height decreasing as they creep up the mound. The exact method by which cross-fertilisation is brought about is set forth at length in the description of its near relative, the golden rod, in a later chapter. One characteristic mark of the Daisy is that when the stigmas have received their pollen they close their forks and withdraw into the tube again. Further, the closing at night promotes cross-fertilisation in the ray florets, for their stigmas are bound at that time to rub on the pollen balls on the adjacent disk florets.

Curiously enough, no one ever seems to find a Daisy fading and in fruit. It is like Mr. Weller, Senior's, dead donkey of Pickwickian fame, in its elusiveness, though the fluffy fruit of its near relatives, the dandelion, thistles, and golden rod is an everyday sight. The fact is that it omits to provide the fairy-like parachute for its seeds that the others do, so they are small and of no account to look at and just fall on to the plate of leaves below them, though no doubt the wind quickly moves them on from that position. The Daisy certainly does not seem to suffer.

One word must be said about the opening and closing of the Daisy. Everyone knows that the "Day's Eye" closes at night and opens in the morning and, also, that if a bright day become overcast and wet, the bloom closes, whatever be the time, until the sun shines again. Exactly by what mechanism this happens we do not know, but we do see that it is dependent on the sunshine. Kerner suggests that the vibrations of light striking upon a closed flower become partly changed into vibrations of heat, and the two together act chemically upon the watery substances in the cells and thus bring about changes of tension, and hence of growth. He points out the little known fact that every night the rays of a Daisy grow somewhat, and that it is only while they go on growing that the closing movements continue. Here, too, the cold scientific reason of the pretty crimson petal tips, immortalised by Burns, conies in, for they are due to a substance known as anthocyanin which has the special property of changing light rays into heat rays. When the Daisy is closed and its sheath folded round it these crimson tips form a dome over the central disk and, consequently, catch the full benefit of the sun's rays directly it appears and thus greatly facilitate the production of the necessary heat. This closing of the bloom is naturally a measure of protection.

The leaves are broad and flat and are arranged in a circular plate that lies closely upon the ground. Nothing can grow beneath them and they are, therefore, very injurious to grass lands. They are, further, filled with acrid sap, so cattle disdainfully pass them. This explains Alphonse Karr's description: "There is a plant no insect, no animal attacks, that ornament of the field with golden disk and rays of silver, spread in such profusion at our feet: nothing is so humble, nothing is so much respected."

The roots, too, are acrid, and there was once a popular superstition (to which Bacon refers) that if they be boiled in milk and the liquid be given to puppies the animals will grow no bigger.

The Daisy belongs to that immense and universal family, the Compositæ.

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