hedge stachys defined in 1913 yearhedge stachys - Hedge stachys (Stachys sylvatica);
hedge stachys - A detestable smell (especially when bruised), rough, nettle-like leaves, rough, square stalks, and a spike of dark purple-red flowers of no particular beauty is not a combination of qualities that makes an attractive personality. But, at any rate, the Hedge Stachys does not know that crowning disgrace of to-day - unobtrusive mediocrity, to be one of the undistinguished rank and file - its smell alone raises it above that, and gives it a forceful and definite, if unpleasing, personality. Among those many other rough, nettle-like herbs that choke the hedgeside and perplex the non-botanist with their close resemblances it, at least, stands out, for the mere handling of the plant reveals it infallibly, and even after it is thrown away in disgust the evil aroma, clings to one's fingers and keeps its memory green.
There are five species of Stachys growing wild in our country - the once much-valued Betony; the Woundwort, a doubtful native and actually known as the Stachys Germanica; the Marsh Stachys, whose smell is bad but not so bad; the low-creeping Field Stachys; and our friend of the illustration - and all are more or less coarse and hairy herbs. The Hedge Stachys has thick, creeping roots that throw up tall stems, two, three, or, maybe, four feet high. The stalked leaves are arranged up them in pairs, each leaf being on the opposite side of the square stem to its partner. The pair of leaves above and the pair below arise from the other two sides of the square, and thus not only are the leaves opposite to one another, the pairs are also at right angles to each other. This alternation of position of the pairs prevents, of course, undue overshadowing of one pair by that immediately above it. It has been shown that it is a mechanical advantage for the supporting stem, to be square when the leaves are placed in opposite pairs. The leaves themselves are heart-shaped, with a bold, saw-like margin, and they feel like velvet to the touch, so dense are the hairs upon them. Their disagreeable juices cause cows and horses to give them a wide berth, but it is said that sheep and goats will nibble at them if herbage is scanty. Country folk sometimes aver that toads prefer the shelter of these plants to others less odorous, but most probably this theory rests on the mere idle supposition that one disagreeable thing must needs prefer the company of other disagreeable things.
The flower-spike tops the stem. The flowers are arranged in rings - "whorls" - always six in each ring, and the rings are set one above another up the spike, say half an inch or more apart. Close under each ring is a pair of small, sharp, pointed green bracts, otherwise the stalk between is bare. The buds and youngest flowers are in the top stories, then come tiers with the flowers in full bloom; below these are rings of merely empty calyx tubes, their five sharp points very much in evidence, for the red-purple corollas have withered and fallen away. At the bottom of every empty calyx tube four nutlets can now be seen to be lying; in the upper tiers they are white or tinged with brown, in the lowermost they are shining black. Here and there a gap in the fours is showing where some nutlet has been shot out as the calyx dried and contracted.
Turn back to the tiers where the flowers are still blooming in full force. Out of the five-pointed calyx cup the long tube of the red-purple corolla projects. It is about two-fifths of an inch long, and since it is often half-filled with honey it is obvious that the Hedge Stachys - like many other unattractive individuals - possesses a considerable amount of hidden sweetness. The corolla tube ends in two sinister jagged lips; the upper lip - the smaller - stands upright slightly overarching, the upper side of the arch being covered with white hairs. The lower lip is long, narrow, and three-lobed. Round the mouth of the tube are numerous hairs and a curious streaking and white marbling of the ruddy petals. The shape of the mouth is a rounded arch with a deep trench, or channel, in its floor; the white hairs are particularly stiff and prominent on the side walls of this deep trench, and serve to keep insect visitors to the centre of the channel.
The Stachys, like the dead nettle, with whose structure, indeed, it is almost identical, lays itself out for Bombus bees, hive bees, and, as one would expect from its smell and colour, for flies, though it is necessary that these should be of the long-tongued kind. No others could reach the honey. The stamens are four, in two pairs, lying close under the roof of the upper arching lip, with cream anthers on red filaments, the filaments carrying quite a brush of hairs half-way up. In the centre of them, also under the upper lip, runs the red, ovary column with a very pronounced fork at its tip.
Now, if a bud be opened and its secrets laid bare before it is time to unclose its lips and expose its mouth, it will be found that the fork of the style is already fully open. The style is longer than the stamen filaments, so this stigma fork is above the anthers. One pair of anthers, cream and closed, lie just beneath it on but slightly curved filaments, but the second pair of anthers are much lower in the buds, their filaments curling right over. At first the two anthers of each stamen are smooth, closed bags side by side, then they move apart at an angle and begin to split on the side facing the mouth, and then, still before the bud opens, they turn so as to be in line one above the other, the slits widen and cream pollen grains begin to appear out of them. At this stage the bud opens its mouth.
The stigma fork is the most prominent part of the flower. Just below and behind it lies a mass of pollen issuing from, the eight anther cells, and the tube glistens with the promise of honey. Any bee or long-tongued fly approaching settles on the lower lip and creeps carefully up the centre of its channelled floor into the dim, red-glowing tunnel of the petal tube. The forked stigma touches it first, sweeping along its head and back as it moves in, and thus collecting pollen for itself if any be there. As the insect passes beyond the stigma it plunges right into the pollen mass behind and receives a thorough dusting, which dusting of pollen keeps fairly in the centre of the bee's back, because all the anthers lie centrally in two long lines, four in each, and this pollen dust falls exactly along the line which will be swept by the projecting stigma of the next flower visited. Apparently every flower gets fertilised; in a spike of thirteen tiers, six flowers in each, one will get three hundred and twelve black seeds. The mechanism of the flower is interesting, especially if one trace it with a lens from the early bud stage to the withering flower.
It is said that a yellow dye can be obtained from the plant, and it has been suggested that the very tough fibres of its stem might be utilised commercially; it has also been classed among the woundworts as good for stanching blood, but in none of these particulars does it seem to have special value; it is therefore difficult to understand why, a century ago, the "Universal Herball" should think it worth while to give minute directions for its propagation and cultivation as if it were a plant of moment to our great-grandfathers.
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