common mallow



common mallow defined in 1913 year

common mallow - Common mallow (Malva sylvestris);
common mallow - From the very beginning of its existence the Mallow possesses points of special interest. As an embryo it lies curled round in a kidney-shaped seed, its root enfolded by the base of its two seed-leaves. It almost fills the seed, but a little reserve food is stored away with it. When it creeps out of its temporary home its seed-leaves prove to be of an unusual character, for whereas the majority of such leaves have a plain, unbroken outline, those of the Mallow are three-lobed. This cutting into lobes has been brought about by the peculiar manner in which the leaves are folded within the seed coat. During its first summer season the little plant merely establishes itself and forms root, stem, and leaves, but the following spring sees it at the top of its vigour; its growth pushes on apace, and it races upwards two, or even three, feet. Its stems - it mostly boasts of several rising from the root - are covered with stiff hairs, as are the leaf-stalks. Its leaves'are large and rounded, and cut into five or seven shallow lobes. The margin is still further diversified by a small nicking. Our ancestors had a great opinion of these leaves, though nowadays we seem to overlook any possibility of merit in them. Once they were quite a common vegetable. They were also used as a "sallet" with salt and vinegar. In the herbalists' medical lore they took an important place; rubbed on spots stung by wasps and bees, they quickly eased the pain; they also drew forth thorns and splinters if applied to the wounds where these had entered. In an old book of the seventeenth century, "The Art of Simpling," it is said, "Mallowes, Pellitory, and Mercury are reckoned weeds by the Vulgar, and yet they are 3 of the 5 emollient herbes which are used in every glister." In fact, the whole plant from root to fruit is full of a mucilaginous sap, and it is from this that it acquired its reputation both as food and as a medicine. We can understand, therefore, how decoctions of the plant were prescribed for coughs, sore throats, and inflammations generally. Further, "If the head be washed therewith it stays the falling and shedding of the hair," says Culpepper in his account of the plant. He ends with a little piece of interesting biography. Once during those Elizabethan days an epidemic of a serious and mysterious nature occurred. "The College of Physicians not knowing what to make of it called it the inside plague for their wits were Ne plus ultra about it…" His son was taken ill, "myself being in the country was sent for up; the only thing I gave him was Mallows bruised and boiled both in milk and drink, in 2 days (the blessing of God being upon it) it cured him. And I here, to shew my thankfulness to God, in communicating it to his creatures, leave it to posterity."

In June the clusters of many green buds begin to be pink-tipped as rose-red cones gradually project beyond their green envelopes. One says "envelopes" advisedly, for the Mallow flower is not content with a calyx only, even though it is stout and hairy, it must needs also provide an outer, extra wrap of three small, green bracts which are inserted on the five-lobed calyx cup. In one respect these little bracts are important, for on their various peculiarities is based the three divisions of the whole Mallow family - the Malvaceæ - as represented in England, namely (1) Malva - the Mallows proper, of which there are three, the Common, the Musk, and the Dwarf Mallow, where the bracts are separate and on the calyx; (2) Lavertera - the Tree Mallow - where the bracts are joined into a three-lobed cup; (3) Althæa - the Marsh Mallow (to which group the garden hollyhock belongs), where the bracts are united into a five-lobed cup. Each cone bursts and spreads as five distinct petals, which together form a wide vase. Every petal is narrow where it is attached, but spreads at the top, where the centre of its margin is notched; it is also scored by deep, red-purple lines - honey guides - from flower-centre to margin. Looking down on one of these flowers one sees a rose-purple disk with five lobes, and in its centre a five-rayed, green star, which star is due to the green of the calyx showing through the five gaps between the lower parts of the petals. But the most striking feature of the Mallow flower is its central arrangement. Rising from a white platform, on which honey glistens, is an elegant column, slightly spreading at the base and ornamented with purple panels. At the top of the column is a fluffy, pyramid-like head. The column is the united stamen filaments; the fluffy head the many branches of the stamens with their single white anthers. At the outset the pyramid of anthers completely covers over the as yet undeveloped stigmas, but as the anthers open and let fall their pollen, they droop one by one until eventually they have all fallen away and hang limply round the column. And as they fall we see that there are many thin ovary columns within - many styles each with a receptive stigma. These grow and speedily occupy precisely the position that the stamens did.

Hosts of insects visit the Mallow plants - Müller counted no fewer than fifty different sorts that do so - and these will rub indiscriminately on either stamens or stigmas according as they visit a younger or an older flower, and thus necessarily will transfer the pollen from the one to the other. Most of the visitors are after the flower's honey, which is produced in pockets at the base of the ovary and covered over by hairs to keep rain from diluting it and little, unprofitable insects from stealing it, but there are others who come for the sake of the abundant pollen. In the Dwarf Mallow, where the flowers are smaller and insect visitors far fewer, the styles eventually curl down among the withering stamens, and thus fertilise themselves if this has not already been done by the kind offices of insects. Every country child knows the fruit of the Mallow, those little so-called "cheeses" (because they resemble a flattened, round Dutch cheese), made up, like a peeled Tangerine orange, of a dozen or more segments, each segment being a cell of the ovary and containing a single, curved seed. "Only compare a vegetable cheese," says one, "with all that is exquisite in marking and beautiful in arrangement in the works of man, and how poor and contemptible do the latter appear! Nor is it alone externally that this inimitable beauty is to be discovered. Cut the cheese across and every slice brings to view cells and partitions and seeds and embryos arranged with an unvarying regularity which would be past belief if we did not know from experience how far beyond all that the mind can conceive is the symmetry with which the works of Nature are constructed."

As the cheese dries the segments fall apart, and in the new spring each will, under favourable auspices, develop into a new plant to carry on the life-sequence - for its parent having lived its two seasons' life, is by then dead. And thus we complete the cycle of the Mallow's life.

Many favourite, homely names for the plant are taken from the fruits: thus we have "Cheese-cake," "Cheese-flower," "Chucky Cheese," "Loaves of Bread," "Pancake Plant," "Pick Cheese," and "Fairy Cheese."

The name Mallow is supposed to be derived from a Greek word meaning "to soften," either because of its laxative qualities or because of qualities in its mucilaginous tissues already alluded to. Gerard, however, derives it from a Hebrew word signifying "of the saltness," "because the Mallow groweth in saltish and old ruinous places, ... which in most abundant manner yieldeth forth Salt peter and such-like matter."

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