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Familiar Features of the Roadside
THE WOODLAND ROAD — SHRUBS AND FLOWERS
BELONGING TO THE HEATH FAMILY.
SOME of the most beautiful shrubs and herbs which grow beside the woodland road are members of the Heath family (Ericaceæ), and many of them — the huckleberry, trailing arbutus, mountain laurel, and Indian pipe, for instance — are common throughout the hilly regions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England.
As summer advances we will find on the waysides of the climbing hills the dwarf blueberry (Vaccinium Pennsylvanicum), with its beautiful cadet-blue berries, sweet as honey, clustered at the tips of bushes scarcely ten inches high. The miniature leaves are variously colored with red and green, finely toothed and laurel-shaped. It is the lowest and earliest of the blueberries. Its immature clusters of fruit are of the most beautiful æsthetic hues: green, magenta, pink, purple, and violet. The dwarf blue-berry is an upland species which is found on some of the highest summits of the White Mountains. Another species, V. Canadense, has downy leaves without teeth, which are broader than those of V. Pennsylvanicum; it grows from one to two feet high. Late in August, in the thickets that border the marsh, the fruit of the swamp or high blueberry (V. corymbosum) appears. This lowland species attains a height of from five to ten feet, and bears a blue-purple or blackish, slightly acid berry. In May the flowering branchlets are often leafless.
The common huckleberry (Gaylussacia resinosa) grows from one to three feet high, and bears a shining black berry without bloom, which ripens in August. Its leaf (without teeth) and reddish flower in May or early June are sticky with bright, tiny, resinous yellowish globules. We will find this species growing on the rocky hillside, or on the border of the wooded swamp. It does not occur in the White Mountains, where the dwarf blueberry is very common, but it is plentiful in various parts of New Jersey, on the island of Nantucket, Lake George; N. Y., and in Putnam County, N. Y.; it is widely distributed from Maine to northern Georgia.
The squaw huckleberry (V. stamineum), sometimes called deerberry, is a rugged shrub two to three feet high, very much branched, bearing large, greenish or yellowish, globular or pear-shaped, hanging berries, which are insipid and not edible; they ripen in September.
The flowers of all these shrubs are vase-shaped and five-cleft at the edge, usually of a whitish, pinkish, or magentaish hue, and they appear in spring or early summer. The common cranberry of our markets (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is found in the peat bogs of the Northern States, and flowers in June.
beautiful miniature, creeping snowberry (Chiogenes serpyllifolia)
belongs in the peat bogs and. mossy woods of the North, but it very
frequently finds its way to the borders of the mountain road; we can
always tell it by the flavor of wintergreen in both leaf and berry.
The leaves are tiny and ovate-pointed, the minute flowers grow
solitary at the junction of the leaf with the main stem, and bloom in
May, and the clear, snow-white berries appear in late summer. It is
certainly the daintiest member of the Heath family. I very frequently
find it in the damp woods of the White Mountains.
On the rocky hillsides of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and distributed in the far North and the West as far as Missouri, is the low-growing little plant called bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi). Its small leaves are thick and evergreen, and it trails over the barren, stony ground, much as the arbutus does, but in thick mats. The leaves are toothless and smooth. The flowers appear in May; they are urn-shaped, flesh-color pink-tipped, and are succeeded by astringent red berries, which are mealy and flavorless; as they remain on the plants through the winter, they furnish acceptable food forthe winter birds. The species A. alpina, with deciduous, toothed, strongly veined leaves and black fruit, is common on the high summits of the White Mountains.
The bearberry may also be found on many of the stony slopes of the Adirondack Mountains. I have sketched that most interesting eastern rocky outpost of these northern hills called Mount Pocomoonshine, on whose precipitous cliffs the bearberry finds here and there a scant foothold. The grand old mountain faces the road about eight miles south of Keeseville.
Bearberry in flower.
The common wintergreen or checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens), with its pure red berry and dark, varnished, evergreen leaf, is too well known to need description here. It is very frequently found on the wooded roadsides.
The beautiful staggerbush (Andromeda Mariana)1 has ample clusters of nodding flowerets, urn-shaped, white, and waxy, which appear in spring or early summer on nearly leafless branchlets.
This is a familiar shrub of the roadside in low grounds, which is becoming common in cultivation; it grows from two to four feet high. Very closely related to the Andromeda is the sorrel tree or sour wood (Oxydendrum arboreum), whose leaves are about the size and shape of those of the peach. The dainty little white, urn-shaped flowers appear in June or July; they are borne in long one-sided clusters, and strongly resemble those of the Andromeda. I have never seen the sorrel tree growing wild in New England; it is found quite commonly in the rich woods of Pennsylvania, and is distributed westward as far as Indiana and central Tennessee. There is a good specimen under cultivation at the Arnold arboretum, near Boston.
A most charming shrub which is frequently seen on the roadsides of the coast States, North and South, particularly in the pine barrens of New Jersey, is Leucothœ racemosa; this has beautiful long, upright but slightly curved racemes of flowers, white, fragrant, and drooping. Each spike is from three to four inches long, with from twelve to eighteen (sometimes more) urn-shaped blossoms. The leaves are from one to two inches long, smooth, pointed, and sharply toothed. This shrub grows from four to ten feet high, and blooms in May or June, but the scaly bracted flower spikes are formed during the preceding summer. It is certainly deserving of wide cultivation.
Still another similar shrub which blooms in May, the leather leaf (Cassandra calyculata), formerly confused with the species Andromeda, is commonly found beside the road which passes over low, wet grounds near the coast; it is frequently seen in the pine barrens of New Jersey in company with Leucothœ. The tiny, white, urn-shaped flowers are evenly distributed over the branchlets, each one growing in the axil of the small leaf. About twenty of these smaller leaves occupy a six-inch terminal length of the branchlets, forming with the pretty flowers a one-sided decorative cluster. The leather leaf is well named, for its leaves are thick and leathery, shiny above and rust-colored beneath, about an inch long, tough, nearly if not quite free from teeth, and almost evergreen. It grows from two to three feet high and is thickly branched. Its geographical distribution is from Maine to Minnesota, and southward to Georgia.
Closely related to the shrubs already mentioned, and more beautiful in the larger development of its decorative, frosty, waxy, white flowers is the familiar mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). This shrub reaches its finest growth in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where it forms, on damp ground, dense thickets from four to ten and sometimes thirty feet high. In May or June it is in full blossom, and its showy clusters of pink-tinged buds and flowers I regard as the most beautiful of all our early wild flowers. The flowers of the kalmia must be seen under a magnifying glass to be thoroughly appreciated, and it is scarcely necessary for me to add that this revelation of its perfect form and beauty will create a lasting impression on one’s memory. No other wild flower possesses such exact symmetry, and few, if any such splendid frosty sheen. Kalmia is distributed chiefly along the mountains, from Maine to western Florida. Its lance-ovate leaves differ from the preceding species in being much larger, as well as bright green and smooth on both sides.
The crowning glory of the Heath family is the rhododendron. The flower which we see in the public parks in early June is most likely to be a hybrid of Rhododendron Catawbiense (a native species) and R. arboreum; the latter is a species which comes from the Himalayas, and is not hardy. R. Ponticum is a species from Asia Minor, hardy in the North, but only as a low shrub; this has a dark magenta-purple flower, which appears in late spring. The hybrid rhododendrons are of various colors; those partaking chiefly of the Catawbiense characteristics are distinguished by broad, flat, broad-pointed glossy leaves, and purple or light lilac-blue flowers. A prominent characteristic of the rhododendron is the large conical bud which passes through the severe cold of our Northern winters unharmed, and the gracefully drooping, evergreen leaves clustered in a circle below the bud which terminates the branchlet.
The Battle Ground and Bridge, Concord, Mass.
Beside the road where the swampy ground meets its borders we will possibly meet in May the “leafless blooms” of the delicate magenta-pink rhodora (Rhododendron Rhodora), about the charms of which Emerson sang. I never thought the flower a “rival of the rose,” nor have I been particularly impressed with its beauty; its color is too near the unpopular magenta to make it a favorite with anybody but an enthusiastic poet. But the magenta flower is extremely dainty in form, and so long as the tardy New England spring brings a mere handful of rival blossoms, this one appears as beautiful and showy as one could wish. The flowers appear before the somewhat hairy, pale-green leaves. The shrub grows from one to three feet high, with each stem divided into four or five branchlets, which are terminated by the encircling flower clusters. The rhodora is readily found in the vicinity of Concord and Lexington, Mass. It is also seen in cultivation in the Arnold arboretum near Boston, and the Harvard Botanic Garden, Cambridge.
The great laurel (Rhododendron maxima) is somewhat rare from Maine to Ohio, but quite common in the mountains of Pennsylvania and southward. It has large, thick leaves, and showy pink or white flowers, which bloom in July or August. It is a tall shrub, from six to twenty feet high, frequently found on the wooded banks of mountain streams. We are not likely to meet it on the roadside, but a near relation is far more apt to adorn the wooded borders of the highway, at least in the southern part of New York; this is the purple azalea or pinxter flower (Rhododendron nudiflorum), which grows from three to six feet high, and bears handsome blossoms an inch and a half across, slightly fragrant, and variously colored with pink, magenta, and pale yellow. This shrub is usually found on the banks of sluggish streams and the borders of swamps; it is not very common on the wooded roadsides in New England, and is only occasionally found on those of the Middle States. In the South it is quite abundant.
The swamp honeysuckle (Rhododendron viscosum) is a somewhat sticky white-flowered azalea, which grows on the borders of swamps, quite commonly in the southern parts of New England. It blooms in June, and is usually found not far from the roadside in the marshes near the coast. Quite an amount of the swamp honeysuckle may be gathered early in the summer in the swampy borders of the roads near Buzzard’s Bay and Wood’s Holl, Mass. While we are still on the highway which passes through the cold, damp, wooded glens of the Northern hills we may look for the shrub known as Labrador tea (Ledum latifolium); it grows in cold bogs or woods from New England to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and northward. The leaves are about two inches long, very white-woolly or velvety beneath, narrow, like willow leaves, and without teeth, but strongly rolled at the edge. The flowers are small, white, and the little corollas have five distinct petals. They appear in May and June and sometimes continue through July. The shrub grows from one to five feet high. In olden times its astringent leaves were used as a substitute for tea.
One of the most attractive and fragrant members of the Heath family is the white alder or sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia). This beautiful shrub is as worthy of cultivation as the shad bush or the mountain laurel. Not infrequently it appears in the water borders of our parks. The leaves are from two to four inches long, wedge-shaped, and toothed at the upper edge. The small flowers appear in July or August, in long, terminal, upright spikes. They are similar in form to those of Labrador tea, but they have in addition a sweet, heavy odor. This shrub is common in the dense copses that flank the marshes near the coast, from Maine to Georgia. The perfume of the white alder, like that of the common milkweed, is cloyingly sweet, but both odors, as I remember them, are pleasantly reminiscent of the heat and drowsy idleness of midsummer, and they are inseparable from the peaceful hum of the bumblebee, the intermittent “zipping” of the green grasshopper (Orchelimum vulgare), and the vigorous, loud s-szip, s-szip, s-szip of the greener, cone-headed grasshopper (Conocephalus ensiger). Clethra grows from three to ten feet high, and is so beautiful when in full bloom that I greatly wonder why it is not in common cultivation; but, like Cassandra, Andromeda, Leucothoe, and several other splendid members of the Heath family, it is left to bloom in its native wilds, while innumerable foreign species of less attractive appearance are put in the gardener’s hands for him to nurse with arduous care, resulting in indifferent success through our rigorous Northern winters.
There are four other lesser members of this interesting family, all of which are common on the wooded road. The first of these is prince’s pine or pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata). This beautiful little evergreen-leaved plant puts forth its waxy, flesh-pink blossoms in June and July. Let us look at a single flower under the magnifying glass. What a revelation of dainty, frosty beauty it is! There are five petals which are cream-white or pale flesh-colored; these are well turned back in the mature flower, and just inside of them we see a narrow circle of subdued magenta, over which are displayed in high relief ten handsome brown-purple anthers which are conspicuously two-horned. In the center of all rises a tiny, pink-yellow tinged dome. Not only is the little flower beautiful, but it is filled with a rare and delicate perfume. We may look for it beneath the spruce and pine trees on dry needle-covered ground. Not far from the pipsissewa we may also see the shin leaf (Pyrola elliptica), whose nodding flowers with prominent, curved, taillike styles are also waxy, but greenish white. The dull-green, somewhat spoon-shaped leaves rise in a circle from the base of the plant. The flower stem is from six to nine inches high.
I have found the pipsissewa and the shin leaf growing side by side in the woods about Saddle River Valley, N. J., and on the borders of the woodland roads which skirt the mountains of New Hampshire; but both flowers are common throughout the Northern States.
The last two members of the Heath family are the daintiest and oddest of all; these are the ghostly white Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), with its frail, fleshy single flower familiar to us all, and the tawny or reddish false beech drops (Monotropa Hypopitys). We find the latter on the borders of oak or pine woods, flowering in summer time. The stem is from four to ten inches high, and bears tiny fragrant flowers with four or five petals of a ruddy, or pale terra-cotta hue.
False Beech Drops.
The Monotropas are common throughout the East. They flourish on the decomposed vegetation of damp rich woods._________________________
1 It is said to be poisonous to cattle.