lesser periwinkle



lesser periwinkle defined in 1913 year

lesser periwinkle - Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor);
lesser periwinkle - "The Periwinkle is a great binder," said an old herbalist, and its name implies as much, for Periwinkle is a corruption of the M. Latin pervincula, derived from per=about, and vincere=to bind. It is a "binder" in many senses, too. In the first place literally, for its strong, supple shoots are used at times as cords; in the second place, they are twined into garlands to bind round the brows of the youthful dead - particularly in Italy - the evergreen leaves being a symbol of immortality; once, too, they formed garlands of derision, as, for instance, when Simon Fraser, that loyal adherent of Wallace, was taken in irons through London with "a garland of Pervenke set on his heved;" thirdly, it was a "binder" in medicine, for if its leaves were chewed, said the herbalists, they bound and stayed bleeding from nose and mouth; moreover, it was a well-established remedy for cramp, Lord Bacon himself testifying that a limb suffering from cramp would be cured if bands of green Periwinkle were tied round it; and William Coles, in his "Adam in Eden" (1657), gives a definite case of a friend who was "vehemently tormented with the cramp for a long while which could be by no means eased till he had wrapped some of the branches hereof about his limbs." Fourthly, superstition declared that it could unite man and wife in bonds of affection, for, as Culpepper pointed out three hundred years ago, "Venus owns this herb and saith, 'That the leaves eaten by man and wife together cause love between them.'" Moreover, the method of its growth is a method of binding plant to earth, for its creeping rootstock sends out long, trailing shoots, technically known as "stolens," which, where the somewhat arched shoot touches the ground, send out a rootlet from a node, i.e. a point where a leaf arises, and bind the shoot again to the earth. Later the intermediate part of the arch dies away and a new plant starts from the new rootlet. And since the plant is a perennial the parent plant also lives and flourishes. Thus does the Periwinkle cover the ground of moist and shady woods "and creeping with his branches far about," "quickly possesses a great compass."

The shoots are closely beset by pairs of little plain, oval leaves, smooth, and of a very dark green colour, which persist through the winter. The sap within them is so acrid that the plant has been used for tanning. Since the shoots trail on the ground all the leaves are arranged so that they face the sky and all get their full meed of sunshine, but should a branch turn upwards into a more or less erect attitude, then the leaves seek to arrange themselves in pairs at angles tending to a right angle, the angle being completely "right" when the stem is absolutely vertical. This is, of course, so that the leaves shall again get the fullest possible measure of light in the circumstances.

The pale, blue-purple flowers are of special charm and of very special interest. Each grows singly on a short stalk arising at a leaf-angle. The calyx is cut into five deep segments; the corolla forms a long tube below, expanding into a flat, five-lobed plate above - each petal lobe being square-tipped. The inside of the tube is pale in colour, and has a fringe of hairs at its mouth. Looking down into the flower the throat of the tube seems completely blocked, due to the very curious structure of stamens and stigma. The stamens are five in number, and set in a ring on the side of the tube about half-way up. Their five heads bend towards the centre, almost touching and forming a cupola; each carries a hairy crest. Their filaments bend like a knee. The ovary at the base of (but inside) the petal tube is divided into two chambers, but has only a single style for the two; this is an unusual thing. On either side of it are a couple of sparkling honey glands. The style, narrow at the base, enlarges like an inverted cone above, and is topped by a flat, round plate of unique description. Its circular edge glistens and is sticky, for this edge is the stigma. The "knees" of the stamen filaments come just below this plate. From the centre of the plate rises a brush of hairs. The diagram sets forth the structure in detail. And this is how the flower of the Lesser Periwinkle "works":

The anthers open on their inner side and the pollen falls on and into the brush of hairs of the stigma plate. It cannot, however, reach the sticky, receptive edge. An insect comes - bees and flies are frequent visitors - and though the honey is hidden at the base of the tube, eleven millimetres away, yet it can get its head well into the tube, so that a proboscis but eight millimetres long can reach the nectar. It thrusts its head in - no doubt the "knee" allows each stamen to "give" a little; its proboscis plunges into the honey; as it withdraws it all smeared with nectar past the hairy brush on and in which pollen grains are lying, some must needs stick to it and be carried off. On going to another flower and plunging past the adhesive edge of the stigma plate, some of this pollen will be transferred to it, and thus fertilisation be effected. However, in spite of all this elaboration, the plant in this country rarely sets fruit. Hence it is sometimes supposed not to be a native; but probably the plant finds it more profitable to expend its energy on its rooting, trailing stems for the furtherance of its propagation. When it does fruit it forms two little pods, each containing three or four seeds.

There are two Periwinkles, the Larger and the Lesser, found wild in our country, but the right to the title of true Briton is challenged in both cases.

They belong to the Apocynaceæ family, a family known wild to us in this country only through these two plants. Other members of it, however, such as the oleander, the stephanotis, the stapelia and the hoya are familiar enough in our greenhouses.

The Periwinkle may be found in flower at all times of the year except in dead winter. It is sometimes known as "Blue Buttons," "Cockles," "Sorcerer's Violet," "Hundred Eyes," "Dicky-Dilver," and "Sen-green" (i.e. evergreen). It is the "Perwinkle" of Gerard, and the "Pervenke" of Chaucer.

"There sprange the violet al newe
And fresh pervenké rich of hewe."

And it is bound up with Wordsworth's beautiful thought of flower-happiness:

"Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail'd its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes."

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