white campion



white campion defined in 1912 year

white campion - WHITE CAMPION (Lychnis vespertina);
white campion - A Cinderella among plants. All day long the White Campion stands in the bright summer sunshine as rather a little drab of a plant. A foot, or maybe two, high, its main stem branches but slightly, and its leaves, of a long oval tapering at both ends - more so at the tip than at the base - are of simple outline, and stand in pairs, somewhat sparsely, at intervals along the stalks. It is often roughish with short hairs, and its few colourless flowers droop dully, shabbily. There is no beauty to be found in it; it seems to have no part in the gaiety of the flowers around, and it finds no place in the children's bright nosegays. Not for it are the homely names that speak of affection or of familiarity. When flower-lovers notice it at all, it is just "The White Campion," and nothing else. But all the same, it is a plant with character, and behind its drabness lie points of considerable interest and possibilities of loveliness. Perhaps this explains a curious fact about its names. The majority of wayside plants possess a number of common names, which are all brought to a focus, as it were, in one definite, unvarying Latin name, for which botanists are responsible. This plant, however, has but one usual homely name, while the botanists have not agreed very well about its formal name, and we find it described as Lychnis vespertina, Lychnis dioica, and Silene pratense among others, for reasons which will later appear. However, the first name seems now to be the one settled for it.

But, like Cinderella, the White Campion has a fairy godmother, who visits it late in the day, and this fairy godmother is called "the Shades of Evening." The time of the fairy visit is as the sun is setting and his rays are gently sliding across the earth, not striking it fiercely. The greyness that is creeping up is the fairy wand, and at its touch the flowers lift themselves. The joy of life seems to enter into them as the petals lose their shabby creases and spread, and as they spread each blossom puts on a bridal dress of gleaming whiteness. The dull green stalk and the rough, uninteresting leaves disappear in the kindly covering of night, and only the flowers shine out like stars on the darkening background of the hedgeside. Even the fact that they are comparatively few in number is now an advantage, for each stands out separate and distinct. It is for this reason that botanists call the plant Lychnis vespertina, for it is indeed a "torch of the evening."

Two further gifts are yet bestowed by the fairy godmother: the gift of sweet scent - for not only are the flowers brilliant in their pure whiteness, they also are fragrant - and the gift of sweet honey, which lies in the tissues round the centre of the flower at the base of the petals. And thus is our plant Cinderella fitted out for her campaign to attract. And the Fairy Prince is in waiting. He takes the form here of softly flying moths to whom the gleam, the scent, the honey, make an irresistible appeal, and one by one the flowers are visited with ardour through the hours of darkness. • And so the night passes - the flowers charming, the moths visiting - but as the morning dawns and the sun again lights up the earth, the fateful hour comes for the plant as it did for Cinderella, the gleaming petal dress becomes draggled, the scent dies away, and soon it is once more the little drab. Just now and then, unlike Cinderella, it has a respite, for if the day be dull and the sun hidden, its flowers may linger on and the plant carry over part of its beauty until the next night's quickening.

Now, when we come to examine carefully the flowers of several White Campion plants, we find a remarkable fact: they are not all alike, though at first sight they appear to be so. Each has a strong, ten-ribbed calyx, inclined to stand out a little from the petals. The petals are five in number, quite separate one from another; their long, thin lower part forms a rough tube, and is supported by the calyx; above the calyx they spread out as a ten-lobed silver disk. But, when we open the flowers on one plant, we may find there are only stamens within; in the centre there is no seed-case, and they seem hollow and incomplete. We pass on to another plant and within is a substantial oval seed-case, and spreading from it are five big upstanding rays, but there are no stamens around it. So we say the blossoms are incomplete, and that one is a male flower and the other is a female flower, in contradistinction to such flowers as the buttercup, the foxglove or even the stitchwort, which is of its own family, the Caryophyllaceæ: these are complete, or, as we say, "hermaphrodite." It is to this single-sexedness of the flower that the plant owes its Latin name of Lychnis dioica (dioica, "of two sexes"). "I have seen flowers," wrote Alphonse Karr, in his well-known "Tour Round My Garden," "which contain in their corollas both the husband and wife; I have seen others which bear them separated, but upon the same plant; there are, however, trees and flowers which only produce separately males or females, and these are frequently planted by chance at a great distance from each other. There would be no lovers, no marriages, no reproduction, but the air takes upon it the charge of bearing the caresses of the husband to his spouse in the form of those little yellow bags which contain a fructifying powder. Bees and other insects which fly from flower to flower are little messengers who carry perfumed kisses from the bridegroom to the bride; it is thus they repay the hospitality they receive in the rich corollas and nectaries filled with delicious honey; and thus the wife receives in her bosom the message of her absent husband." Less fancifully put, it all comes to this, that the White Campion, in order positively to ensure cross-fertilisation, has taken the drastic measure of separating the sexes as widely as possible on different plants. Just now and then, however, it appears to forget its stringency, and we get flowers which contain both stamens and ovary.

In the male flowers the stamens stand in two rings, but they are not mature all at once. First the outer ring is ready and discharges its pollen, while those of the inner ring are shorter, and wait. Next night they, too, grow to full strength, and as their brethren fade they take their place in dispatching loads of pollen upon the messenger moths. As for the female flower to which the loads are sent, it is worth a moment's pause to look at the ovary and its five columns. Not often do we see five such fine ones. In the young flower they all stand within the petal tube side by side close together, but as the flower matures they grow well above the tube and spread out as a five-rayed star in the centre of the flower, each pale green ray passing above and between the petals. It would not be easy for those spreading rays to miss the pollen loads inadvertently brought by the moths when they pay their night visits to sip the honey deep below them.

As a result of the visit the seed-case swells. As the days pass it dries and becomes brown, then one fine day it opens at the top by five little teeth which turn back, and out of the little openings thus formed the seeds are jerked as the stems are swayed by the wind. One says " one fine day " advisedly, because if the day be wet the teeth do not open or, if open, when rain comes on they roll back and close the openings. Thus the seeds are saved from being drowned in their case and water-logged, for if that happened they could never be jerked out and dispersed.

This, then, is the life of our plant Cinderella; not an uneventful one or one lacking in romance, after all, for appearances are often deceitful.

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