red rattle

red rattle defined in 1912 year

red rattle - RED RATTLE (Pedicularis palustris);
red rattle - The Red Rattle is taking to bad ways; it has not gone far upon the evil path, but its trend is in that direction, for it is a pilferer, a petty thief who takes just a little here and just a little there. It does not perhaps do any material injury to the victim of its depredations; the little it takes is probably not even missed, but the injury is rather to itself, for though for the time being it supplies its needs at relatively little cost, it has yet given up its birthright of complete independence, and Nature will ultimately take her revenge. Witness its relatives, the broomrapes and the toothwort, which are whole-hearted parasites, and could be nothing more now if they would, for, through non-use, they have lost their leaves and their green colouring matter - in fact, their whole machinery for working up their raw food.

It is a pretty little plant with much divided feathery leaves and flowers of a beautiful rose-pink colour, and one would never suspect from its appearance that it was of the clan of parasites even in a minor degree unless, indeed, suspicion were aroused (as often happens in our world) by a too intimate knowledge of the habits of its near relatives, such as the cow-wheat, the eyebright and the common rattle. Over all these the dark shadow of parasitism rests, and careful observers have tracked suckers from their roots passing over to the roots of grasses and meadow plants around. The suckers encircle these roots and cling to them, penetrating their surface and absorbing their life-juices, and quickly killing that unfortunate portion that they have chosen for their embrace. Shortly afterwards these plants, including the Red Rattle, who have lives of only one short season, die themselves, but their seeds, scattering in the neighbourhood, germinate in the following spring, and may even press the same hosts into their service that their parents did. The Red Rattle's nearest relative, the meadow lousewort (P. sylvatica), however, lives for several years and its suckers, after they have killed one portion of root, will lengthen and seek some other portion to prey upon. Hence we often find unusually long suckers upon its roots. These two plants are the only representatives in England of the Pedicularis or Lousewort genus, but they have a large number of foreign relatives which are found even in the Arctic Circle, and likewise grow in all colder parts, such as bogs and mountains of our temperate zone.

But though it may be true that "this herbe is an infirmitie of the meadows," as an old writer said, yet when we turn to its flowers we cannot deny that we have here a most ingenious mechanism, as well as a truly brilliant flower in a small way. There is a very broad lower lip of a beautiful rose-pink colour; above this is a thin hood of a deeper purplish red, "like a small gaping hook," as someone suggests, but rather in profile, remarkably like a pigeon's head, beak and all. One very curious point is that all the flowers have a peculiar askew look about them because the over-arching hood is not exactly above the centre of the lower lip. This is usually attributed to accident in the particular flowers under observation, but it is really part of the design, for it gives a greater space on one side of the lower lip than on the other, so that bees can more comfortably settle there and probe into the corolla tube, whose throat moreover is also somewhat over towards that side. At the foremost point of the petal hood is a tiny opening, and through this the style protrudes slightly, thus forming the beak to the pigeon's head. Inside the hood are four stamens, two on either side; their heads open towards the centre, but, as the opposite faces touch each other and press together, the pollen, though ready to fall, cannot do so.

The plan of the flower having been grasped, watch a bee approaching. It flies straight on to that part of the platform assigned to it, and the projecting " beak" with the protruding stigma rubs gently on its head. If there is anything in the way of pollen to be rubbed off it, the stigma acquires it. But the bee, unheeding, pushes sideways into the long tube, for the honey is kept by the flower down in the tube in a ridge round the ovary. As it pushes in, though it does not actually touch the pollen-boxes, it yet jars them so that, for the moment, they spring apart, when promptly out fall their contents, or at least part of them, and some of the shower necessarily drops on to the insect's head. In the meadow lousewort the anthers are fringed with hairs so that the pollen shower cannot scatter, but this arrangement seems to be absent in its marsh brother, the Red Rattle. The honey secured, the bee backs out and flies away.

The dark calyx is noteworthy. It is divided into two broad lobes, each of which is edged with jagged teeth - "crested" it is sometimes called. It becomes of an inflated appearance, and as the flower fades remains round the oblique seed-case and protects it. Even when the seed capsule is mature only a short point of it projects beyond its envelope. It contains a few large dark seeds. This bladder-like calyx, together with the finely segmented leaves whose very segments have deeply indented margins, are characteristics that readily distinguish the plant.

The unpleasant botanical name of its genus, Pedicularis, and the English equivalent Lousewort, by which names both marsh and meadow species are known, are founded on a belief, long and stoutly held by farmers, that the healthiest sheep feeding on these plants inevitably become infested with scab. But this, as happens in other cases, is a libel on the plant; the fact is that the Red Rattle preferably establishes itself where the ground is marshy and the pasturage poor, arid if sheep be turned on to this ground they will naturally become poor in condition too, and therefore liable to be verminous and diseased whether the Red Rattle be their food or no. Unfortunately "if you throw enough mud some of it will stick," and in keeping alive both popularly and scientifically through its names the old mistake the Red Rattle will always be credited (or should it not be discredited ?) with having some relation to vermin. Other names sometimes used for the plant are "Cock's Comb," perhaps from the shape of its leaves, "Cow-wort," "Dead Men's Bellows," "Rattle Grass " (its common name three centuries ago), and "Suckies."

It can be found in flower from April to August, and it belongs to that family ScrophulariaceƦ, which counts among its members such diverse plants as the snapdragon, the speedwell, and the mimulus.

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