forget-me-not defined in 1912 yearforget-me-not - FORGET-ME-NOT (Myosotis palustris);
forget-me-not - The Forget-me-not is the flower of modern sentiment. Its tender name, the halo of romance that encircles it, the association of which Tennyson wrote:
"The sweet Forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers,"
have all been created in this country in comparatively recent times. Certainly our ancestors of several generations ago did not know it by its present pretty, affectionate name. It was merely the "Water Scorpion Grass" to them, or the "Mouse-Ear" (from the shape of its leaves), and its botanical name, Myosotis, is just the Latin rendering of this name - mouse-ear. The original English Forget-me-not, as some say, was the little blue veronica, the speedwell, whose petals are so fugitive and whose beauty is so transient, or, as others assert, the ground pine or yellow bugle, for the very unromantic reason that medicine made from it was so terribly nasty that the taste was quite unforgettable. However, on the Continent the plant seems long to have had an equivalent name to the one it now bears here, and so, early last century, we happily fell into line, and it is now the only recognised "Forget-me-not."
There are five different varieties of myosotes or scorpion grasses - the water, wood, field, early and changing myosotes - growing wild in this country, and most of them are in turn hailed as the Forget-me-not, for the distinction between them is not very marked, but the one in our picture, the Water or Marsh Forget-me-not, is generally considered the typical one.
The rootstock creeps below the ground, throwing up stems, six inches to a foot and a half in height, in all directions; thus we often get considerable masses of the plant growing in soft, moist soil by the edges, of streams. The leaves - long, narrow, and quite simple in outline - have yet two points of interest about them, one with regard to their hairiness, the other with regard to their veining. Now, as a rule, the leaves of Forget-me-nots in general are rather rough to the touch, for they are covered with very minute hairs, which all point towards the apex. This pointing is so definite that if a leaf be passed from stalk to tip across one's lips or cheek the surface feels almost smooth, but if an attempt be made to draw it in the opposite direction it is almost impossible to do so, so strong, so disagreeable and sharp is the opposition the hairs offer. This peculiarity is, of course, a most excellent defence against small, creeping insects. Any such intruder is quite at liberty to crawl away from the main stem and off towards the leaf tips, but if he attempt to reverse this direction and storm the central path that leads to the flowers, he is at once checked by the impossible roughness of the road. In the Water or Marsh Forget-me-not the leaves are often quite smooth and shining. If the plants are growing well in the water it is obvious that creeping insects cannot in any case invade them, so no armour is necessary, but the plant varies much in this matter.
As to venation. A casual glance at a leaf shows only a very distinct midrib (sunk on the surface, but a ridge on the back) and no other veins, so thick is the leaf texture, but if a leaf be held up to the light two long veins can be seen running up quite close to the margins on either side and parallel to the midrib. This is a very unusual arrangement and, of course, immensely strengthens the framework of the leaf.
The clear, blue flowers are worth more than a passing allusion to their beauty, for their structure is distinctly interesting. The long "cymes" in which they are arranged curl round like a scorpion's tail towards the top, and the buds are tucked right under. Hence the plant's name of Scorpion Grass. A minor point to be noticed is that the calyx is deeply divided into five segments in all the species except the Marsh Forget-me-not, and there it is only slightly cleft. The exquisite petals, five in number, spread out and form a scalloped salver at top; below they are united into a tube. Just at the mouth of the tube each petal has a bright yellow ridge stretching almost across it and slightly arching over the centre, and the five pieces together form a wall round the mouth. In the centre of each petal a white ray streaks back into the blue. Therefore the yellow-and-white centre of each flower is very attractive, and it has a certain historical interest for us, for it is said that while looking at this flower and considering what the purpose could be of the white lines and the yellow wall, the German scientist Sprengel was led to formulate his theory of honey guides, a theory which has given meaning to so many markings and so much colouring that had hitherto been considered as entirely purposeless. His book, pointing out that the marking and colouring of flowers were intended as lures and guides to insects seeking for honey, was published in 1791.
Just below the ridge the stamens are fixed inside the corolla tube: they are very small, and having scarcely any filaments to support the anthers, they are said to be "sessile" - that is, sitting upon the tube. Below them, again, hairs form a lining. In the centre of the flower is a very tiny ovary divided into four parts, down between which the column from the ovary springs and reaches up as high as the stamens. Honey is not hidden in the yellow ridge as is often believed, but is found at the bottom of the tube round the base of the ovary, and is sheltered by the overarching wall above.
Now, an insect arrives and hovers over the flower. The bright centre marks the spot where it must probe the flower; its tongue, kept closely in the centre by the narrowing yellow wall, pushes between anther and stigma. It gets dusted with pollen on one side, at any rate, and as its owner flits from flower to flower it will eventually put some of the pollen on to another stigma. The fruit is in the form of four little nutlets, bright and shining; the calyx, shrivelled and dry, remains attached to them; in the Marsh Forget-me-not it is almost smooth, as the seeds are dispersed by means of the water around, but in the other species it is covered with hooked hairs. These catch on to animals and birds, and the nutlets falling out of their cover one by one as they are carried about, are thus dispersed over a wide area.
There are several legends associated with the Forget-me-not. One runs that a knight was drowned in getting some for his lady-love and was only able to throw them at her feet, saying "Forget-me-not" as he sank. Again, there is a tradition that Henry of Lancaster, afterwards' Henry IV., chose this flower as his "token," combining it with his watch-word "Souveigne vous de moi," and having the initial S and the flower embroidered on his collar. His adherents wore the flower as a secret badge during his exile, and thus the motto gave it its name. It is recorded that at a famous joust in 1465 the victor, Lord Scales, was given a gold collar enamelled with blue Forget-me-nots. The children tell a pretty little legend that when the flowers were being given their names by the Creator this little flower forgot hers, and went back timidly to ask for it, and was then told to be "Forget-me-not."
The Persians have a beautiful story that an angel loved a maiden of earth whom he had beheld twining blue Forget-me-nots in her golden hair by the river-side, but because of his love he was put out of heaven. He wept bitterly outside the gate, and was told he could only re-enter when she whom he loved had planted the Forget-me-not in every corner of the earth. He went back to her, and together they set forth on their task. At length it was completed, and they returned, and she was allowed to enter with him, her love and obedience having gained her immortality. Finally we recognise, as the emblem of Love both human and divine:
"That blue and bright-eyed floweret of the brook,
Hope's gentle gem, the sweet Forget-me-not."
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