herb robert defined in 1912 yearherb robert - HERB ROBERT (Geranium robertianum);
herb robert - Herb Robert is the Robin Redbreast of plant life, for its brave red front and its cheery homeliness make it the friend of everyone. All through the summer, coming early and staying late, its little pink flowers may be found in every hedgeside and open wood, or lying on bare and stony ground, and yet when autumn comes and flowers of all sorts are few and far between and dying leaves speak of the winter that is at hand, it still keeps up its note of brightness by means of its crimson foliage. All sorts of endearing names have been found for it. It is Robin, or Robin i' th' Hedge, or, more fondly, Little Red Robin; sometimes it is felt to be the complement of the robin, and so it becomes Jenny Wren, or Wren Flower; sometimes, again, it is honoured by the name of that evergreen countryside hero, Robin Hood, at other times it is Redbreast or, most aptly, Red Shanks, because of its long red stalks. When its hue is most striking and the leaves and stalks are alike dyed with crimson stain it becomes Dragon's Blood, or Bloodwort, or even more suggestivery, Death-come-quickly. How it became Herb Robert can now be only a matter of tradition, so far back do we find the name. Prosaic folk assert that Robert is a corruption of Rob-wort, the red plant; but one would rather receive the old belief that it keeps alive for us to-day the memory of that Abbot of Molesne, the founder of the great Cistercian Order, St. Robert, whose dedicated day is April 24th. The story goes that he performed miracles of healing by means of this plant. Others again assert that it was not to St. Robert, but to Robert Duke of Normandy, for whom a wonderful medical work was prepared, the "Hortus Sanitatis," that the plant stands as memorial.
The plant may be a foot or rather more in height with stems that are much branched, thin, and rather weak, but thickened for strength where the branching occurs. They carry a few soft hairs, the upper ones being glandular. The foliage is a great feature, the leaves are charmingly fashioned into three main divisions, and these again have their margins gashed so that the whole appearance is one of lightness and grace. Always beautiful, as our picture taken in May days shows, their charm is doubled when the green of early spring passes into the warmer reds of later days.
"Down in the grass
And blushing through green blades, Herb Robert fain
Would catch the eye of pilgrims as they pass,
Who seek for rarer plants."
Because of its glow of colour the plant had a great reputation as an astringent; "scarcely any plant is in that respect equal to it," said an old writer a century ago, and he adds a reflection, rooted in that old heresy, the Doctrine of Signatures, "that nature seems to have set her stamp upon several herbs which have the virtue to stop bleedings; this and the tutsan, the two best remedies the fields afford for outward and inward bleedings, become all over as red as blood at a certain season." For use in this way the whole plant, root and all, was dried and powdered. It is not employed for this purpose now, but it is certain that its tissues contain some strong principle, for if bruised they give out a disagreeable smell, and hence, in retaliation, country folk have called it, rather brutally, "Stinking Bob." They, however, are glad enough of this property when they require to use it as an insecticide, in its ability for which they have great faith.
When we turn to the scientific aspect of the plant there are various points to note, the development of the fruit being of particular interest. The little pink flowers - the Bachelor's, or Billy, or Soldier's Buttons - conform to the geranium type, for the plant belongs to the Geraniaceæ family - that is to say, there is a calyx of five separate sepals, a corolla of five separate petals much longer than the sepals, two rings of five stamens each, the outer ring carrying glands of honey near their base on their outer side, and an ovary made up of five parts ranged round a central column and continued at the tip into five lobes, which at first are all erect and pressed together, but later spread out into five rays. Now the characteristic feature about the calyx is that the sepals stand in so closely together that they form an apparent tube; and about the corolla, that each petal has a ridge down its centre which, projecting into the tube, forms five bays round it. Thus the honey is protected by the mouth of the tube being partly closed; moreover, the whole flower turns over and hangs down to make assurance doubly sure when rain begins to fall. In the little wood geranium, its close relative, the honey is guarded by fringes of hairs at the base of the petals, hairs which are immortalised historically by having started the botanist Sprengel in 1887 on his now classical researches into the true meaning, of every adaptation in a flower. He tells us that he felt that "the wise author of Nature would not have created even a hair in vain," so he sought the plan behind it.
As to fertilisation, though the flower is occasionally visited by insects, it is not very dependent upon them. The pollen is ready to fertilise and the stigmas to be fertilised at one and the same time, and no doubt the plant is self-sufficient as a general rule. Sometimes, however, the strain will be strengthened by a cross-fertilisation. Flies are found now and then visiting the flower; the disagreeable scent may even attract them, and their tongues are guided down to the honey through the passages formed by the ridges on the petals.
And now comes the most interesting episode in the life of Herb Robert. As the flower fades, the central axis, round which the parts of the ovary are ranged, gradually lengthens, and the whole structure, from which both petals and stamens have now disappeared, raises itself into an almost upright position. Five seeds, each enclosed in a capsule, lie round the base of the column, and each capsule projects upward into a rod-like structure that lies along the column. A short tongue keeps the seed-capsule in place for the time being. The general appearance of geranium fruits at this stage has given the genus the name of "Crane's-bill "(geranos, a crane). Probably, too, it accounts for "Adder's Tongue," a name that it sometimes bears.
Naturally, as the central column grows the upward rods of the capsules are greatly stretched, their outer fibres being apparently in a state of greater tension than their inner. Presently their resistance is overcome, they give way one by one at the base, and curl up rapidly outwards. The capsules containing the seeds are shot violently off as if from a pop-gun, not necessarily all at the same moment, and the rods which held them likewise become detached. "In their natural habitat," remarks Lord Avebury, "it is almost impossible to find the seeds when once thrown. I therefore brought some into the house, and placed them on my billiard table. They were thrown from one end completely beyond the other, in some cases more than twenty feet." Among both plants and animals we occasionally find individuals of apparently simple and mild character who are roused to violence when it appears that the welfare of their offspring is in any way at stake, and our friend Herb Robert must be classed among these. Its method proves successful too, for it is one of our very commonest wild flowers.
There are no fewer than twelve native British species, five being perennial with larger flowers, and seven (among which we count our present subject) annual with smaller flowers.
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