red valerian



red valerian defined in 1913 year

red valerian - Red valerian (Centranthus ruber);
red valerian - The Red Valerian is a "butterfly flower" - that is to say, it is built on lines exclusively adapted to the butterfly family - in which, of course, moths are included - and it acts in the matter of fertilisation after a unique and remarkable fashion peculiarly its own. Individually, the flowers are small but they stand, a number together, on the upper side of short branches at the top of a long stalk, and are massed, perhaps several hundred in all, into rounded pyramids. And inasmuch as they are of a rich ruby hue, and the plant loves to perch itself upon walls and rocks, they often form a ruddy crown to old castle battlements and ruined towers, or touch with rosy patches the dazzling whiteness of some chalk-pit side. The mass of colour, the richness of hue, set it apart from British plants with their colder colouring, and it is a fact that its true home is in more southern parts, but, like so many other members of the continental plant-world, it wandered to our island long ago, and has now made itself quite at home; yet not so very long ago after all as a "wilding," for Gerard only speaks of it as growing plentifully in his garden, "being a great ornament to the same and not common in England."

This vividness of appearance is responsible for many of its colloquial names, such as "Soldiers," "Fox's Brush" (form of pyramid plus colour), "Scarlet Lightning," and very probably "Drunken Sailor" or "Drunken Willies" (from the idea of "seeing red"). "Bouncing Bess" (of a ruddy countenance), "Pretty Polly" and "Pretty Mary," too, come from its gayness, while "American Lilac" or "German Lilac" speak of its massed pyramids. Its gorgeousness has sometimes led to its being spoken of as the parvenu of the plant world, but, after all, a plant with the gayest of possible colleagues in the insect world must needs dress accordingly.

At the base of each flower is a short, green seed-case like a pedestal with a ruby capital; on this is set a long, slender petal-tube which has a "tail" running down by the side of the seed-case. This "tail" or spur, causes the plant to be known as the "Spur Valerian" - the ordinary Valerian having no such spur. At the top the tube spreads into five petal lobes, one above and four, like the four fingers of a hand, below - a most exceptional arrangement. When the petals first open only the dark head of a solitary stamen see-sawing across its filament projects from the tube. Again, it is rare to find a flower content with a single starrier. By the side of the stamen, but not so tall, is the red column from the ovary; really this column is very long and the stamen filament very short, but the latter stands high up on the corolla tube while the former has to run right down through the length of the tube to the ovary beneath it. Now extremely narrow as is the corolla tube, not thicker, indeed, than an average pin, it is yet divided lengthwise into a smaller and a greater tube, as can be seen if it be cut across and looked at in section with a hand-lens. It is actually through the smaller of these tunnels that the ovary-column runs. The larger of the tunnels is lined with outstanding hairs and ends with the spur, and it is through this tunnel, therefore, that an insect must probe to reach the honey collected in that spur. And only the proboscis of a butterfly or a moth is long and fine enough to pass down so minute a channel.

Watch an opening flower. The stamen stands well out of it, the two compartments of the see-sawing anther are slitting lengthwise and exposing glittering grains of pollen. If a butterfly now delicately approaches it and thrusts its long proboscis through the appointed channel it must needs annex on its head some of these bright grains, and on departing carry them away. Other butterflies follow on in the sunshine, and more and more pollen is dispatched; but meanwhile the stamen has begun to bend over the edge of the corolla, while the ovary column is growing up into its place, and soon any butterfly sipping the nectar will strike the stigma and smear it with pollen instead of touching the anther, for the one has completely taken the place of the other. But the stamen has possibly not yet quite completed its work. It is hanging so far over the corolla edge that there is more than a chance it will drop pollen on to the stigma in an adjacent flower, so thickly are the flowers massed together. Hence, clusters of flowers may in this way cross-fertilise among themselves even if no butterflies come to visit them.

Then the petal-tube and stamen fall from the seed-case pedestal, and the style, too, is carried with them, and only the urn-shaped ovary with its curious, ringed collar is left. The days pass, the fruits all ripen, and then the collar gives one a surprise, for it suddenly unrolls and forms a spreading ring of feathery rays which catch the wind, and in due course the little dry fruit is wafted away to some rocky niche. One single seed lies in it - one stamen, one style and stigma, one seed - the Red Valerian believes in economy of effort. Old Gerard is rather plaintive on the subject of the sailing seed; he tells us that "without great diligence the seed is not to be gathered or preserved, for my selfe have often endeavoured to see and yet have lost my labour." Parkinson, who thought the Red Valerian "very pleasant to behold," and gave it a place in his "Garden of Pleasant Flowers," also describes how "after these flowers have stood blowne a very great while, they sodainely fall away and the seed is ripe very quickly after, which is whitish standing upon the branches naked... with a little white downe at the end of every one of them, whereby they are soon carried away by the wind." The Red Valerian is noteworthy for flowering all through the summer months.

The leaves are of an unusually elegant shape. Rounded and broad at the base they taper to a fine point, and often are somewhat hollowed and boat-shaped. Thus they hold water for a certain, length of time, whereas most plants construct their leaf-system so that water is conducted immediately to the roots. Perhaps this is a definite advantage to a plant that for choice lives on the top of a wall, or hangs from the side of a chalky cliff.

The name Valerian is said to come either from King Valerius, who dabbled in the healing art, or from the Latin valere - to heal. The family of this plant is the small one of the Valenaneæ, and its only relatives in the British flora are the Common Valerian, or "All Heal," the Pyrenean Valerian, and the four species of comsalads.

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