lungwort defined in 1913 yearlungwort - Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis);
lungwort - A plant of diversity: clusters of flowers of diverse colours, form of flowers diverse in diverse plants, leaves in the same individual of diverse shapes, and, to crown all, a plant of many diverse names. Such is the Lungwort! Rare as genuinely wild in Britain to-day, though common in central and southern Europe, it is still familiar enough to us in our gardens, and sometimes, too, as an "escape" in woods and pastures near them.
Under the showers of April its opening flower-buds promise a rich rosiness of hue as they cluster, each on a short stalk, at the top of a main stem that is from half to a whole foot in height. The end bud opens first, the rest follow in succession. But as they open the rose-pink changes into blues and then purples, so that the stalk carries flowers of all colours as of all ages. This, of course, makes for greater conspicuousness where insects are concerned - and, indeed, for us, too - for the contrast of colour is the first thing we ourselves notice in the Lungwort. To this peculiarity it owes many of its country names, such as the apt "Soldiers and Sailors" (the red and blue), also "Adam and Eve," "Joseph and Mary," and "Joseph's Coat of Many Colours."
The stage of colouring may perhaps serve as a signal to visiting insects, thus Hermann Müller, watching, saw that a certain kind of bee (Anthophora pilipes) only visited flowers in the red stage, always passing over those in the blue. This change of colour is also a characteristic of others in the same family - the family of the Boraginaceæ - in the forget-me-not to a slight extent, and in the viper's bugloss to a greater. Further, as they open the flowers droop, and thus protect their pollen and their honey from rain and cold, and since they hang rather like a bunch of cowslips a very old name for the plant was "Cowslip" with various qualifications, such as "Cowslip of Jerusalem" (Gerard's name), or "Bedlam Cowslip," because of the fantastic colouring, or "Bugloss Cowslip," because of its resemblance to its relative, the aforementioned viper's bugloss.
All the flowers have a rather long and rough calyx, with five teeth at the top. This necessitates a tube to the corolla, which, above, however, expands into a cup with five lobes. In the bud these lobes are most neatly folded inwards, covering over the so-called "essential" organs. Five small stamens stand on the corolla tube, their dark heads containing silvery pollen. But as we investigate further we are aware of divergences. Sometimes the stamens are set high up in the tube, sometimes low down. Also, though there are four nutlets at the base of each flower, the stylar column that rises from between them is sometimes short and sometimes long. Where the stamens are set high in the tube there the style is short; where they are set low down there it is tall. So botanists say the Lungwort (like the primrose) is dimorphic - that is, it has flowers of two forms. The stamens curve inwards, and a tuft of hairs is between each, so that the opening into the somewhat wide petal-tube is narrowed. The hairs also protect the honey, which is plentifully produced in four glands at the base of the ovary and then stored at the bottom of the corolla.
The appearance of the flowers in early spring days when they are not likely to be unduly challenged by brilliant neighbours, the bizarre colouring, the lavish honey, all attract many visitors of the bee and the butterfly classes, and since the basin of the flower allows an insect to get its head well in, even those with the shorter probosces can reach the honey in the depth. Nature's plan is for the insects to carry the pollen from the anthers high up in the tube to the stigma on top of the long style in another plant, and for the pollen from the low-down anthers to be taken to a short-styled plant. Obviously the relative positions of these various parts are such as to make this cross-fertilisation almost inevitable, since that part of the insect's body that receives pollen from the high rank of stamens will be the very part that touches the tip of the long style, and similarly for the short stamens and the short style. Many experiments have, however, been made to see what other possibilities there are, notably by Hildebrand nearly fifty years ago. He obtained no seed if the flowers were self-pollinated, nor yet if long- and short-styled flowers received their pollen from flowers of their own type. By crossing them as Nature intended he got the natural amount of seed. Kerner, however, does not agree with this statement; he states that the long-styled form may occasionally fertilise itself, failing legitimate cross-fertilisation. Lord Avebury, again, says that only the short-styled form can fertilise itself, and then only to produce a small quantity of seed; but when we remember that the flower droops, and that in the long-styled form the anthers are above the stigma, and pollen from them must drop on it, Kerner's statement on the face of it seems more probable. Other observers have shown that if insects are excluded there is no fruit formed. But no doubt the truth is that the flower's mechanism works well on the proper lines laid down for it in the law of Nature, and very indifferently or not at all on any other lines. Hildebrand also found that the first flower on the stalk to open had no seed, but probably this is because the flower-cluster was not then sufficiently advanced in colour to be attractive to insects. The fruit is four small, smooth nuts which, as an old writer said, are "lodged in the bosom of the permanent calyx."
The leaves are quite as noteworthy as the flowers.
The flowering stalks carry small, almost stalkless leaves, but the mass of the plant's leaves consists of a big tuft rising straight from the root. The leaves are large, oval, stalked, and covered with rough hairs. In the bud they are the palest green, their two edges curling over so as to meet on the face along the midrib, while a thick coat of silvery hairs envelops them. Though they are unfolding they do not fully develop until after the flowers have gone. In the garden variety and in the "escapes" these leaves are very handsome and characteristic, for their dark surface is marked with blotches of greenish white. It is these blotches that give the plant its name of Lungwort, from their supposed resemblance to diseased lungs. "Gooseberry Fool" (green gooseberries and white cream), "Our Lady's Milkwort" (resemblance to spilt drops of milk), "Spotted Mary" and "Spotted Comfrey" are other "aspect" names of this stage. In the truly wild British Lungwort these radicle leaves are narrower and less handsome, often having no spots upon them. Dr. Thornton's "Herbal" of just a century ago, however, speaks of the Spotted Lungwort as "a plant common enough in hedges and in shady and rather moist situations.... From its beauty it has obtained a place in our gardens."
The leaves had some medicinal reputation for diseases of the lungs, but not so much as is often believed. The "Lungwort" of our remoter ancestors was really a moss. The chief use of these leaves was as a pot-herb; thus Lyte, writing in Queen Elizabeth's day, tells us that "this plant hath no great use in physicke, but is used in meate and sallades, with eggs." In the north their use as a culinary vegetable still lingers.
Certain homely names for the plant are difficult to account for, such as "Gooseberry Fool" (green gooseberries and white cream), "Our Lady's Milkwort" (resemblance to spilt drops of milk), "Spotted Mary" and "Spotted Comfrey".
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