meadow buttercup

meadow buttercup defined in 1912 year

meadow buttercup - MEADOW BUTTERCUP (Ranunculus acris);
meadow buttercup - The Buttercup is usually taken as a type of what a flower should be. Like the paragons of virtue we sometimes meet, it is complete at every point, straightforward and distinct in every detail, while originality and eccentricity are unknown to it. This model of floral symmetry and rectitude has five simple green sepals, all alike, arranged in a ring at the stalk end; five yellow petals, all alike, arranged in a similar ring (but alternating with the sepals); a large number of stamens of typical form standing within, again in alternating rings; and in the centre of all a considerable number of minute parts, each of which represents a seed-case with one seed and the usual receptive surface for fertilisation purposes. Even the honey is stored away in five little sacs arranged most methodically one on each petal, and carefully covered by a scale. If the petals be pulled off a flower, these honey sacs can be distinctly seen at their base as small heart-shaped structures.

But in one particular the Buttercup can lay claim to a special touch of brilliancy in a literal sense. Usually, the coloured petals of a flower, however gay their colour, have a "dead" surface, but in the Buttercup the petals are not merely gold, they are burnished gold, and glint in the sun's rays.

"The rich buttercup,
Its tiny polished urn holds up
Filled with ripe summer to the brim,"

says J. R. Lowell. That this sheen is a device of the plant to enhance its attractiveness is obvious, since only the upper surface of the petals has it. " The glaze of the Buttercup," says one, "is of kindred character with the song of the lark that rises from the dewy field beside it into the blue air.... They are both the outcome of the spirit of love that pervades all Nature. They both appeared at first to give Adam and Eve a bridal welcome. They are both the sign of the great marriage festivity of Nature." And the golden shimmer seems specially to attract shimmering insects, for iridescent flies and beetles are chief visitors, though, to be sure, hive bees do not disdain Buttercup honey upon occasions.

The manner in which the Buttercup flower arranges its internal affairs is as follows: when the bud opens and the petals spread to form their cup, only the outermost rings of stamens are mature; these bend somewhat outwards, and they open their pollen boxes also on the outside. All the inner parts of the flower, both stamens and stigmas, are as yet unready to act. Any insect coming now to tap the virgin stores of honey must rest on a petal and push under the ripe stamens to get to it, but however much pollen showers on her and however much she moves about the flower no self-fertilisation of the flower can happen, and she must go away carrying all her burden. As the hours and days pass, successive rings of stamens - working inwards - ripen, and as they do so they always bend a little outwards and strew their pollen on the honey-seekers. Finally, the innermost ring of stamens is reached by the wave of ripening, and the stigmas, too, share in it. This is the moment for cross-fertilisation through the agency of a chance visitor. But at this stage the little flies wandering about the flower are also certain to disturb the stamens so that they rub upon the adjacent waiting stigmas, and self-fertilisation is inevitable, if fertilisation is not otherwise effected. So the Buttercup makes quite certain of its future, and we discover why it encourages creeping flies even though they will not act as carriers from blossom to blossom. Each flower blossoms for seven days. Later the little seeds in their cases develop and swell somewhat, forming a globular head, but they always remain hard, dry, and unattractive. Our picture shows both flowers and fruits.

And here a curious question may be put: What is the true Buttercup? - for the subject of this chapter only represents one of three plants which are impartially claimed as Buttercups. It is true all three are members of the same family, the Ranunculaceæ, and the closest of relatives and botanists know them as Ranunculus acris, repens, and bulbosus - that is, the Meadow, the Creeping, and the Bulbous Buttercup respectively - and, as might be expected, their flowers are very similar. Bees apparently do not distinguish between them, for they fly from one to another indifferently, and yet as a strict rule bees always keep, for the time being, to the same species of flower when they are out collecting. But let us, at any rate, distinguish between them. The Bulbous Buttercup is characterised by its stem being thickened into a small bulb at the base; the Creeping Buttercup by its long runners rooting at every node; our plant has neither characteristic. The flower stalk in the Bulbous is smooth and furrowed, in the Meadow it is hairy and furrowed, in the Creeping hairy and without furrows. Though the leaves of all three are divided into many segments, those of the Meadow Buttercup are the most finely divided and the most rounded in general outline. The flowers of the Bulbous Buttercup can at once be known from those of the other two because in them the sepals are bent right back on to the stem. They flourish also only in quite early summer, while the other two varieties begin later and last on much longer. This earlier flowering is connected with the bulb at the base of the stem - though the two are not usually associated in the minds of those who gather the flowers - for in the bulb the plant has nutriment stored from the previous season, so that it can get to work at once with its flowers in the spring, instead of waiting to manufacture the necessary food stuffs as the other Buttercups, which have only fibrous roots, have to do. The Meadow variety may be two or three feet high, and is much taller than the Bulbous variety, which rarely exceeds a foot in height, while the Creeping variety keeps close to the ground.

In all three plants bitter acrid juices course through their tissues; so pronounced are they in the Meadow Buttercup that they have given it its second name, "acris." If cattle, by mischance, munch its seed it is said even to blister their mouths, while little children gathering it in the fields have had their hands hurt. Tramps have found out its value in their nefarious practices, for they have been known to rub their bare feet with the leaves and thus raise sores to encourage the charitable to give alms to the poor and footsore man. In Thornton's "Herbal" of the beginning of last century it is stated that rheumatic affections have often been relieved by pounding the leaves and applying them as a blister. The writer also informs his readers that if a decoction of this plant be poured on ground containing worms "they will be forced to rise from their concealment," but his conscience smites him for giving the information, and he concludes, "although we cannot but condemn such bait as a wicked and barbarous practice." And in this spirit the information is handed on!

There is an old legend that the Buttercup was once a young Libyan with a beautiful voice. Then he sang of his love, but now he has become a flower, his rich attire alone "betrays a secret fire." In the Midlands country folk sometimes call the flowers "Crazy," because they think smelling them will send people mad. Other country names for the plant are "Bassinet" (little basins), "Blister Plant," "Crowflower," "Eggs and Butter," "Gilcup," "Gold Knops," "Goldy," and "Guilty Cup."

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