yellow flag defined in 1912 yearyellow flag - YELLOW FLAG (Iris pseudacorus);
yellow flag - A flower of the waters, crowned with gold, above the green dwellers by the shore,"the Yellow Flag stood in full flower. To Richard Jefferies, as he pushed his way through the tall growth, "the marsh seemed lit up with these bright lamps of gold under the shadowy willows and dark alders." Of all the plants that grow wild in our land there is none that can rival in stately beauty this native representative of the Irises. Its long, sword-like leaves rise directly from the marshy ground and stand erect as bodyguards beside the tall straight stalk which bears aloft the large gold flower and pointed buds. No wonder the Prankish kings of old, when they first stood before their people, bore a flowering spike of Iris as sceptre. From almost prehistoric times it has stood as the symbol of power and majesty; it was dedicated to Juno Queen of Olympus, and was the origin of the sceptre; the three leaves of its blossoms typified faith, wisdom and valour. The Egyptians placed it on the brow of the Sphinx and on the sceptre of their kings.
France is specially bound up with the Iris. The legend goes that early in the sixth century King Clovis, a heathen, was on the point of defeat in one of his many battles. His own gods appearing useless in the circumstances, he bethought him of the God of his Christian wife Clothilde, and prayed for victory. He conquered and became a Christian, and, urged by his wife, replaced the three toads on his banner by three Irises, the Iris being very specially the Virgin's flower and of deep Christian significance. The Cathedral of Florence is dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore (Our Lady of the Flower), the flower referred to being the Iris, which is still the emblem of the city, and always greatly in evidence there. Six centuries later, Louis VII. assumed it on his banner in his Crusade against the Saracens, and it is said that it became known as Fleur de Louis, corrupted into Fleur de Luce (as Flower de Luce it is still known), and then into Fleur de Lys, or Lis - i.e. the Lily Flower. It is curious how the idea of a lily is bound up with the Iris, considering it has nothing whatever to do with the lily family. Longfellow, quite incorrectly, apostrophises it as "beautiful lily," and Ruskin is more poetical than accurate when he refers to the Fleur de Lys having "a sword for its leaf and a lily for its heart."
This flower of legend and beauty has also a most interesting nature in itself, and on one or two points is quite unique. It has a thick, creeping rootstock which, parallel to the surface, pushes through the moist ground in which it delights. Permeated by acrid juices, it once had quite a reputation, and was suspected of many virtues. For instance, the juice snuffed with enthusiasm brings on violent sneezing, and we have on Dr. Thornton's authority in his "Herbal" of 1814, that "in this way it has cured complaints of the head of long standing in a marvellous way." It also cured dropsies, dyspepsia, old coughs, and the "biting of serpents," among other things; was good as a "licking medicine," and "laid plaisterwise upon the face of man or woman, doth in two daies at the most take away the blacknesse and blewnesse of any stroke or bruise," though old Gerard, whose prescription this last is, adds a warning that if the skin "be very tender and delicate, it shall be needfull that ye lay a piece of silke, sindall, or a piece of fine lawne betweene the plaister and the skinne, for otherwise in such tender bodies it often causeth heat and inflammation." So warmly do the recommendations of it ring for the cure of toothache that it might be worth while for distracted sufferers to try it nowadays. According to authorities, one must rub the aching tooth with a piece of the root, or lay a piece of the root upon it, or chew the root, when the pain flies like magic.
From below this creeping rootstock many rootlets pass downwards; from above broad, flat stalkless leaves rise, bound several together into a sheath at the base. The lower leaves may be two to three feet tall, the upper leaves much shorter and embracing the flower-stalk higher up. Their shape has given the plant the name of "Segg," "Skeggs," or "Cegg," all of which came down from the Anglo-Saxon days when a "segg" was a small sword. "Dagger Flower" is a name with similar allusion.
On the top of the stem that rises through the embracing leaves are the remarkable looking flowers. The lowest of them are probably fading, then come flowers in full beauty, then large pointed buds in various stages. The structure of a mature flower is not quite obvious at a first glance. There are three large drooping yellow petal-like sepals with brownish mottled markings on their upper surfaces. Alternating with these are three erect much smaller and less petal-like petals, and inside these again are three more yellow very petal-like objects ending in a double lobe, so that there are three times three of gay floral leaves. There are apparently no stamens. Now the innermost trinity are really the stigmas, and they are far and away the most striking illustration we know of stigmas that resemble petals. In this flower it seems as though anything were more like a petal than the actual petals themselves. The stigmas arch gracefully over, and if we look under the curve of each we find the missing stamens. Each - there are only three altogether - is united at its base to the corresponding sepal, but its flattened stalk curves outwards in conformity with the curving arch above it. In no other flower does the stigma form such a rain-protecting roof for the pollen. Just beyond the top of the stamen is a little shelf on the under side of the stigma, and this is the point destined to receive fertilising pollen. In this flower honey is contained in canals on the inner side (towards the base) of the small, erect petals, and out of these it exudes and lies round the ovary in the heart of the flower.
Now apparently the Yellow Flag lays itself out to receive two kinds of insect visitors. Firstly bees, secondly the long-tongued hover-fly - Rhingia rostrata - and it is sometimes asserted that two modifications of the flower may be met with according as the plant caters for one or other of these visitors. When, say, one of the big humble bees approaches and makes for the honey, it must needs settle on a drooping sepal. It pushes down between the over-arching stigma roof and the sepal floor, and necessarily rubs its great back on the stamen lying almost in the roof. But as it pushes in it rubs first on the receptive scale, and if its back is at all dusty when it arrives it must rub a little of this dust on to it. And then it rubs on the stamen. Now in this case the stamen-head has its opening on the outside to meet this contingency, so promptly the pollen showers down on the intruder's back. The bee gets its honey and shuffles out, but apparently finds its simplest path one leading sideways from the stigma; anyway, it slips by the receptive scale without touching it, and so it does not cause the flower to fertilise itself. Of course, if the bee proceeds to the next sepal and plunges in beneath its arching roof it is bound to effect self-fertilisation there - there is no help for it - but the chances are even that it will prefer to pass on to another flower. If a hover-fly visit this flower it will draw up the honey with its long tongue and never touch either stamen or stigma so far as fertilisation purposes are concerned, and it is apt to add insult to injury after it has finished its gratuitous honey repast by reaching up to the pollen box and taking a final course of pollen. After its meal it flies away without rendering the slightest service in return. But apparently the plant will not always be frustrated in this way, and some-times we find flowers of a slightly modified shape where the leafy stigma lies so close upon the sepals that there is no room for a bee to enter and the hover-fly in penetrating the narrow entrance is perforce bound to do the kind office of cross-fertilisation in return for its honey. Only the non-sensitive lower edge of the stigmatic scale is touched as it passes, but no pollen is left upon it; this is retained among the hairs of the fly's thorax and deposited on the stigma of the next flower visited. This time, too, it cannot rob the flower of its pollen; the exit is too narrow to allow of anything but a crawl out.
Finally the floral leaves fade and drop away from the top of the capsule, which increases in size. Inside it the seeds mature until they are little brown objects flattened on top and below by pressure one from another.
The Iris belongs to the family of the Irideæ, of which the crocus and the gladiolus are also members. It only differs from the daffodil family in its members having three stamens instead of six.
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