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CHAPTER II.
EARLY-FLOWERING SHRUBS.

ON the banks of the stream along which the road follows appear, in April or May, inconspicuous clusters of greenish flowers on the yet leafless, brown, prickly branchlets of the toothache tree (Xanthoxylum Americanum). This is a shrub from four to twelve feet high, bearing compound leaves of from five to nine leaflets (usually seven), which are almost if not entirely without teeth, downy when young, but growing smooth. All parts of the tree are pungent and aromatic; if the leaves are crushed they yield a strong lemonlike1 odor; this is also very strong in the fleshy fruit, which is about the size and shape of peppercorns. The toothache tree is frequently seen in cultivation; it is supposed to furnish an excellent remedy for toothache and neuralgia.

A near relative of the toothache tree, the three-leaved hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata), will be found on rocky roadsides in Pennsylvania, on Long Island, and in the West as far as Minnesota. This shrub, from six to eight feet high, bears on the tips of its branchlets clusters of rather unpleasantly scented, four- to five-petaled greenish white flowers in early June. The leaf is composed of three leaflets without teeth. The hop tree is very beautiful in spring when in bloom, and in the fall its large clusters of decorative, hoplike fruit make it a charmingly ornamental shrub; it is closely related to the ailantus, a fact not difficult to realize after one has noticed the disagreeable odor of the blossoms; but, notwithstanding this slight drawback, the hop tree is decorative and deserving of wide cultivation.


Hop Tree: fruit at A.

In June we will also see the pretty upright greenish yellow flower clusters of the mountain maple (Ater spicatum) on the tall, branching, slender, greenish stems of this shrub, whose dainty, drooping, sharp-pointed leaves are invariably outlined in high relief against the shaded roadside borders of late spring. The mountain maple rarely grows over fifteen feet high.


Mountain Maple.

Another shrub with three leaflets like the hop tree is the bladder nut (Staphylea trifolia). This is commonly seen on the roadside, especially among the thickets which border the bog. Its pretty white flowers which terminate the slender branchlets in drooping clusters appear in May. The leaflets (sometimes there are five) are toothed, and the main stems of the compound leaves grow opposite to each other. The bladder nut is a handsome shrub, from six to ten feet high, with green-striped branches, and (in late summer) extraordinary inflated seed pods like my sketch, which are three-sided and three-celled, each cell containing about three smooth hard seeds. The pod, if crushed, smells like a pea pod.


Bladder Nut.

A most remarkable little ruddy blossom is that which we find on the sweet-scented shrub or Carolina allspice (Calycanthus lævigatus) from May to August. Under our nose and with our eyes shut we would imagine the flower was a luscious ripe strawberry, so nearly does it simulate the fragrance of this fruit. The flowers, which grow singly in the axils of the leaves, must be crushed to yield the odor. C. floridus is a species in common cultivation which we will see in parks and gardens; the other species is found in the mountains of Franklin County, Pa., and southward along the Alleghanies. The leaves are without teeth, oblong, pointed, and bright green. Both bark and foliage are aromatic. The Calycanthus will be seen in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and in Central Park, New York.


Carolina Allspice.

A marked feature of the shady roadside in June is the white, flat-topped, and loose flower cluster of the dogwood. There are several species, no one of which should be confused with the so-called poison dogwood (Rhus venenata)2 belonging to quite a different family (Cashew), which includes the sumachs. The true dogwoods of the family Cornaceæ are not poisonous. The handsomest member of the group is the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), which bears a large flower with four notched, petallike, showy white leaflets set around the tiny greenish florets. The flowers appear in May before the leaves are fully out; they are succeeded in the fall by small bunches of bright-red, oval berries. This species differs from the others in not having a flat panicle of small blossoms; it grows at least twelve feet high.


Flowering Dogwood.

The very opposite in character of growth from the preceding is the little dwarf cornel or bunchberry (C. Canadensis); this tiny plant creeps along the damp, wooded roadside of the mountains, and spreads its light-green leaves scarcely five inches above the ground. The white flowers appear in June, and the beautiful bunches of bright scarlet berries are ripe in the latter part of August.

C. alternifolia is a shrub at least six feet high, whose leaves are an exception to the rule respecting their manner of growth; they arrange themselves alternately about the tips of the branchlets. The flowers, which appear in May or June, are in flat, open clusters; they are succeeded in late August by blue-black, round, berrylike fruit, which terminates the pretty coral-red, branching stems.


Cornus alterifolia

C. sericea (called kinnikinic) is a shrub three or more feet high, bearing flat, open flower clusters in June. The silky, downy branches are purplish; the young ones reddish. This species is common in swampy places; the berry is also dark blue.


Cornus sericea

C. stolonifera is low, from three to four or sometimes six feet high. It is remarkable for its smooth ruddy stems, which by the middle of winter are blood-red, and furnish a remarkable bit of color on the borders of the snow‑covered meadow. The flower clusters, which are small and flat, appear in June; they are followed in August by whitish or leaden-gray fruit. This species is common in wet places throughout the North.

C. asperifolia is also but three or four feet high, and bears flowers in a similar small, flat cluster, succeeded by a whitish fruit. The branches of this species are brown and rough downy; the leaves are also downy. C. asperifolia is a distinctively Western species extending from the northern shore of Lake Erie to Minnesota; it also grows in the South.

C. paniculata is a much-branched shrub from four to eight feet high, which bears flowers in numerous loose, almost cone-shaped clusters in May or June. The fruit is white, borne on a pale-red stem; it appears in late August. This species is very common along the road, beside the river, and in meadow borders throughout the North. The dogwoods all have ovate-pointed leaves, variable in size, with long veins which run almost parallel with the edge which is devoid of teeth. In the case of C. sericea and C. asperifolia the leaves are downy beneath, but in the other species they are smooth throughout; C. alternifolia, however, is minutely downy. These shrubs are commonly found beside the highway, particularly where it crosses some thicket-bordered stream. They are extremely beautiful in late spring when their thin foliage furnishes the most delicate, sober green which we can find during that season; and in late summer their handsome berries, many of them ruddy stemmed, contribute some of the prettiest bits of color which enliven the shaded depths of the woodland. At this time we may catch a glimpse of the purple finch and the red-eyed vireo, who venture down from the tree-tops to feed on the berries which they so greatly relish; in fact, if we approach a large clump of the alternate-leaved dogwood with caution, we may see a number of our feathered friends pecking at the dark-blue berries, but not at any hour of the day; it is early morning when the birds are most hungry, and breakfast with them is the all-important meal of the day.


Cornus paniculata

From May until July the flowers of the common elder (Sambucus Canadensis) are in bloom; but this familiar shrub needs no description; its compound leaves and handsome, broad, white flower clusters, sweet with perfume, are known to us all. Two marked characteristics of the elder are the rank smell of the leaves when crushed and the thick-jointed branches; the latter, when new, are bright green. The large, heavy bunches of purple-black berries, ripe in August, are used for making a medicinal elder-berry wine.


Red-berried Elder: portion of a fruit cluster at A.

Still another species, the red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa), is common beside the road. The flowers, clustered in a pyramidal panicle, appear in May. The leaves usually have five leaflets. The fruit is ripe in June; in color effect it is one of the most striking and beautiful bits of decoration which the woodland border presents to the eye in early summer. The tiny berries are translucent red, and grouped in effective clusters among the ornamental dark-green leaves. This species grows from two to twelve feet high; the common elder is rarely over ten feet high. I am surprised to note that in the Field, Forest, and Garden Botany Gray calls the flowers of the elder scentless; if one should apply the nose to a good, spreading cluster of the blossoms, I think the experiment would furnish an all-sufficient proof to the contrary. The common elder is a familiar object along the roads of central New Hampshire, and it is quite as familiar to those who pass over the roads in southern New York. The red-berried elder is rather rare in northern New Hampshire.

Succeeding the elders in order come the Viburnums, low, straggling shrubs only occasionally found beside the road. One of the commonest of these, dockmackie (Viburnum acerifolium), is confined to cool rocky woods; its flat, white flower clusters appear in May or June. The leaves are like those of the maple in shape, and the blackish fruit, about as large as a huckleberry, is ripe in early autumn; it is not fit to eat. Another species, arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), generally found in damp places throughout the North and West, has roundish leaves, straight-veined and coarsely toothed, and bears small clusters of white flowers which appear in June. This shrub grows from five to fifteen feet high, and sends out remarkably straight shoots. It is occasionally found in the thickets of the roadside.


Dockmackie.

On the mountain road which passes through the woods we will probably see the large, almost heart‑shaped, coarse, light-green leaves of the hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides). The flat, white flower cluster appears in May, and the small, hard, red berries are ripe in September. This reclining shrub frequently takes root at the ends of its branches, and thus trips up the unwary traveler. It is extremely common in the White Mountains, along the paths which wind through the woods in the vicinity of the Flume House, Franconia Notch, and the Crawford House, White Mountain Notch, and it can often be found at an altitude of three thousand feet on the mountains.

Probably we will see in May or June, on the woodland road farther south, the insignificant greenish yellow flowers of the fly honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliata). These grow in twos at the junction of the leaves with the main stem of the straggling plant. The leaves are oval or variable in shape, and finely fringed at the edge. A near relative of the fly honeysuckle, a shrub quite common on the wooded roadsides of the North, is the bush honeysuckle (Diervilla trifida). This has small, honey-yellow, or greenish yellow flowers, usually three on a stalk, which also grow out from the main stem directly at its junction with the leafstem. They bloom from June to August. The opposite-growing, sharp-pointed leaves are toothed.

One of the commonest roadside shrubs of the north country is the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Its decorative, spherical heads of yellowish white flowers with long styles are quite an inch in diameter; the strongly veined, blunt, egg-shaped leaves are without teeth. The flowers, however, are late in blooming; they do not appear until late in June or early in July. This shrub grows about four feet high, and is most frequently found on the borders of swamps and streams.


Buttonbush.

The buttonbush thicket is a favorite haunt of the red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phœniceus); here the bird finds a safe retreat, seldom molested by enemies; the environment is entirely too aquatic for all visitors other than batrachians. I have no doubt whatever that madame, as she settles on her nest at sundown, is frequently serenaded by the crepitating, bleating, lullaby notes of the familiar tree toad (Hyla versicolor), or, should she build her nest in late April, by the more musical but pathetic voices of the spring peepers (Hyla Pickeringii). The blackbird is a much slandered but interesting character. Wilson says he has a reputation of being a notorious corn thief, a plunderer of honest farmers; but he proves by careful computation that the farmers are indebted to the birds for destroying an inestimable number of injurious insects. He has calculated that all the blackbirds in the United States during one season of the space of four months eat up sixteen billions two hundred millions of grubs and larvae! Now, what more could a farmer ask of one family of birds?


The Red-winged Blackbird.

If we approach a thicket of alders or button bushes in May (the nesting season) most likely we will see the male bird flirting about in and out among the leaves in evident alarm. He is a handsome creature, nearly ten inches long, dressed in a glossy uniform of black, with deep-red epaulets bordered with buff; his bill is black and very sharp. He is by no means a singer, but, on the contrary, gives expression to his feelings in a variety of confused, rasping, unmusical tones, resembling those of the blue jay; his commonest note sounds like quonk-a-ree. If we can recall the shrill squeak of a saw being filed, combined with a turkey-goblerlike sound resembling jeer-a-rup, jeer-a-rup, we will have the exact counterpart of another of the blackbird’s notes — and the jay bird’s as well.

In April or early May, on the road which winds through the dark woods, we will possibly see the spice or Benjamin bush (Lindera benzoin) in full bloom. The honey-yellow flowers (four to five in cluster) are inconspicuous and tiny; they are grouped in yet larger clusters along the slender branchlets which are as yet bare of leaves; these are alternate-growing, nearly smooth, oval, pointed, and without teeth. The red berries are obovate, and spicy in smell and taste; they have been used in place of allspice. The aromatic odor of the crushed leaves resembles that of gum benzoin. This shrub grows from six to fifteen feet high.


Spice Bush.

Along the roads near the coast, in sandy soil, grows a low shrub from two to three feet, or rarely eight feet, high, called bayberry or wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera). This is very common on the island of Nantucket, along the south shore and in the vicinity of Siasconset. The flowers appear in May along with the leaves; the sterile ones, erect and oblong, less than an inch long, and the fertile ones in egg-shaped clusters; the two kinds are mostly on separate plants. The leaves are extremely aromatic when crushed; they are deep olive-green. The small bony nuts, an eighth of an inch in diameter, at first greenish and finally grayish, are incrusted with wax. It was a common practice some years ago for the country people to gather the berries, boil them, and collect the wax by skimming the water.3 With this so-called “bayberry tallow” candles and even soap were manufactured. The wax myrtle is found from Maine to Florida; it is also on the shores of Lake Erie.


Bayberry,
and leaf of Sweet Gale at A.

On the borders of ponds, and perhaps on the roadside adjoining the cold bogs in the North, we will find the sweet gale (Myrica Gale), another similar fragrant shrub, which grows from three to five feet high. The blunt extremities of the leaves are toothed, and the flowers, similar to those of the foregoing species, appear in May; the sterile ones are closely clustered. The little nuts are round and dotted, and are winged by a pair of egg-shaped scales; they are crowded together two to six in a cluster. Sweet gale is distributed from Maine westward along the Great Lakes to Minnesota, and southward along the mountains to Virginia.


Sweet Fern.

Sweet fern (Myrica asplenifolia), which is, of course, not a fern at all but another member of the Sweet Gale family, is common on every pasture and rocky hill throughout the North. It is unnecessary to describe it in detail, so well is it known. The brownish yellow flowers which appear in April or May are of two kinds on the same plant; the sterile ones are about an inch long, catkinlike, drooping or erect, and crowded toward the tips of the branches; the fertile ones are oblong, one third of an inch long, and are in rounded clusters with the seed cases surrounded by eight narrow persistent scales, which grow long and burry as the fruit develops. The fruit, ripe in early July, is a small nut in brown-green clusters of a burlike appearance. This aromatic shrub grows from one to two feet high.


A road in Buck's Co., Pennsylvania. Sassafras Trees.

Sweet fern and sassafras, frequently found growing together on the borders of the road, are two remarkably decorative plants with extremely conventional foliage.

________________________________________

1 An odor similar to that of the lemon verbena.

2 See page 176.

3 In Nova Scotia the wax is extensively used instead of tallow, or is mixed with tallow, to make candles. It has also been mixed with beeswax for the same purpose. Candles made of it diffuse a very agreeable perfume, but give a less brilliant light than those made entirely of animal substance. — George B. Emerson.


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