wild mignonette



wild mignonette defined in 1912 year

wild mignonette - WILD MIGNONETTE (Reseda lutea);
wild mignonette - "Your qualities surpass your charms." This motto stands beneath a sprig of Mignonette on the arms of a certain noble family of Saxony. The story goes that one of its members was once affianced to a capricious Court beauty. One evening, in play, she selected a splendid rose to represent her; her lady companion, plain and homely, but good, chose the Mignonette. The coquetries of the Beauty that evening brought matters to a climax, and the Count transferred his 'affections to her companion, presenting her with a sprig of Mignonette, and saying, "Your qualities surpass your charms." The remark was not too gallant, perhaps; however, she married him, and hence the quartering on the arms.

But if this motto aptly describes that now naturalised Egyptian weed, the garden mignonette, where the sweetest honey and the most delightful scent - scent specially vivid at sunrise and sundown - grace an otherwise somewhat unattractive flower, it can scarcely be made to apply to the Wild Mignonette. This plant, though it boasts of honey, has absolutely no scent, and its yellowish-green spikes are even less ornamental than those of the garden plant. Our photograph, however, manages to give it a certain distinction of appearance. It has a general unmistakable resemblance to the garden mignonette in spite of the greater yellowness of its flowers, and no one, seeing it even for the first time, could fail to recognise it, though the recognition usually carries disappointment with it when the expected fragrance is found lacking. It is a herb whose life is but a season long, though sometimes, if the winter be mild, it will struggle through it and enjoy another spell of summer. It likes dry waste places and limestone cliffs; for instance, a road high up by the sea will often have it growing freely by its side. The leaves are cut into many segments, and the whole plant, as it lies half sprawling on the ground, tends to have a rather ragged and untidy appearance, especially when the flower is passing into fruit.

Individually the flowers are nothing to look at, but since they are collected into somewhat dense spikes they make the most of themselves. There is, however, a good deal noteworthy in them, in spite of their insignificance. There are generally six green sepals and six yellowish-green petals (sometimes the number is five or seven). The petals are really rather curious, for they are cut into three upper lobes and a lower flap. The honey is stored in a cup-shaped hollow in the disk below the ovary, and the flaps of three of the petals form a lid it and shut it in so securely that before any honey can be taken out the lid must be prised open. There are a good many small stamens and an oblong seed-case (surmounted by three teeth), which is built up by the union of three carpels. Curiously enough, this seed-case never quite closes at the top, and this is a peculiar characteristic of the flower.

The stamens shed their pollen at the very time the stigmas are ripe to receive it, so that a flower is quite in a position to fertilise itself, but it does not often appear to avail itself of the chance; for the most part its pollen seems useless to fertilise its own seeds. (The garden mignonette is quite sterile to its own pollen.) Evidently the flower aims at fertilisation from a neighbour, and little flies who might help are often found visiting it, but a German observer, Müller, who made a special study of the visits of insects to flowers, pointed out that the Mignonette is specially visited by, and specially adapted to the visits of that variety of wild bee known as Prosopis, one of the four thousand five hundred varieties that are said to be known.

Now the Prosopis is supposed to be the present-day representative of the primitive wild bee, from which all bees have been evolved. She occupies the same position in the bee world with regard to the hive bee that the cave-dweller occupies in comparison with a respected London citizen. She is small, half starved and naked, and has no beautifully arranged hive for a home; all she can provide are a few poor cells in galleries in dead wood or loose earth. Solitary and alone she lives, storing up a little honey for her offspring, but, dying before her eggs hatch, she never knows them. She has no long proboscis such as the hive bee has, but merely a short, flat, trowel-shaped one with which she plasters her cells, but which (and here plant and insect are mutually adaptive) is the very thing to prise open the lid of the honey chest in the Wild Mignonette. Only a bee fashioned in this way can get at the flower's treasure, and thus we see that even the poorest and lowest of the bees finds a flower that will make a bid for its special favour, and will, moreover, seek its co-operation in an exclusive way. There are fascinating possibilities of research in the large field of bee-fertilised flowers, as to how they are often specially adapted, not merely to bees in general, but to some definite variety of bee in particular, as, for instance, in the case of the Wild Mignonette and Prosopis, the snapdragon and the humble bee, and the bryony and that variety of bee known as Andrena florea.

After fertilisation the seed-case swells, and if it be cut across transversely it can be seen that it is built up of three carpellary leaves, which are, as it were, standing upright and joined together by their margins. Along the three lines of union are two rows of black, shining seeds - that is, six rows in all. As the capsule matures it opens still more widely at its mouth, and the swaying of the flower stems by the wind jerks out the little smooth seeds.

The family of the Mignonette is but a very small one and among British wild flowers is only represented by three species altogether, namely, the Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) of our sketch, the White Mignonette (Reseda alba) and the Dyer's Mignonette, known also as "Weld," "Yellow Weed," or "Dyer's Rocket" (Reseda luteola). This last has glossy, undivided leaves, long pointed flower spikes, and is taller and more erect than the plant we have been considering. At one time it was largely used by dyers, as its juices gave a beautiful yellow colour. Linnaeus observed that it follows the course of the sun, turning to the east at dawn, to the south at noonday, to the west at sunset, and due north at midnight. It also has a great partiality for waste places and limestone rocks.

The name Reseda is from resedo - I appease, I calm - because certain species were said to have a sedative effect upon people. Lutea means golden-yellow.

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