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IN LEAFY JUNE — GREEN LEAVES AND A FEW BEETLES AND BUTTERFLIES.
RICH in emerald-green foliage and cobalt-blue skies, decked with the dainty pink of countless wild roses, and attuned with the songs of many birds, the month of June is the most beautiful one of all the year. To one who can not enjoy the brilliant green which adorns the roadside the aspect of Nature is crude and lacks æsthetic interest. But what a pity not to know that a large part of Nature’s beauty is this very force of color after which the impressionist strives! A picturesque green roadside in New England or Illinois is quite as available a subject for an impressionist’s picture as any roadside in France. We may learn to tolerate Nature in her verdant robes, but we are ready to quarrel with the artist who in copying her uses such vivid, chalky greens. I think I can show, however, that the roadside is painted with as brilliant colors as those contained in the paint box. Let us examine a few which are near at hand.
One of the most beautiful bright light greens which we will see in the swamp beside the road is that of the Indian poke (Veratrum viride),1 with its spreading, broad, corrugated leaves. Their green is a hundred tones lighter than that of any tree, and ten times purer. All the beauty of color which characterizes this plant in late May or early June will be seen now; in midsummer it sends up an uninteresting spike of green flowers, and shortly after blackens and dies.
Another beautiful plant which is sure to decorate the river’s brink this month is the unfortunate carrion flower (Smilax herbacea), a charmingly decorative vine doomed to complete disfavor because of the blossom’s putrid odor. The leaves are bright, shiny light green, and the yellow-green flowers, now in bloom, have very long stems; they are inconspicuous but pretty. If, somewhere on the road, we imagine we are passing a dead rat and at the same time spy a beautiful vine-covered thicket, we are justified in arriving at but one conclusion — carrion flower! The vine I have found very common in northern New Jersey and in the southwestern region of the Catskill Mountains, near Dean’s Corners, N. Y. But it is common throughout the Northeastern States.
As the road climbs the slope from the meadows and enters the border of the woods, we may happen to see a pretty crimson magenta flower snuggled beside some small deep-green leaves, slightly resembling those of the wintergreen. This is the flowering wintergreen (Polygala paucifolia), a dainty little thing scarcely four inches above the ground, which bears its fertile flower in budlike form on a subterranean stem. The leafage is frequently suffused with ruddy purple. Still another woodland flower, and one which is endowed with the daintiest perfume, is the twin flower (Linnæa borealis), whose creeping stems spread over the stony ground in mossy woods, where the sunlight spots the ground with yellow-green. The little drooping bell, scarcely a third of an inch in diameter, is white lined with crimson-pink. The light-green leaves are small, round-toothed, and broadly oval. The twin flower blooms after the flowering wintergreen; the latter is in its prime in late May.
Two noxious plants which show their bright-green leaves and greenish white flowers in June, are the poison sumach (Rhus venenata) and the poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron). Both of these are harmful to touch, especially when in bloom. I have drawn the leaves of the plants so that they may be easily identified. R. venenata grows from six to eighteen feet high and bears a compound leaf composed of from seven to thirteen leaflets, smooth and without teeth. The flowers are borne in loose panicles which grow out at the junction of the leaf stem with the branch. R. toxicodendron is a vine which covers the stone wall and frequently climbs to the top of a small tree. Its leaves are always borne in threes, never in fives like those of the Virginia creeper. The leaflets are variable in shape, sometimes notched or cut-lobed, but with no fine teeth. They are light green with a waxy finish, and droop considerably about the stems. The flowers are similar to those of R. venenata; the latter species is most frequently encountered in swamps, but the poison ivy is common on every roadside in New England. Both species bear clusters of whitish lead-colored berries about the size of very small peas; they ripen in September. An excellent remedy for poisoning -resulting from the accidental touching of these plants is the binding of the affected parts in cloths saturated with “Pond’s extract” (Hamamelis). A severe case should be referred to a physician at once. R. venenata I have never found in the Pemigewasset Valley, but R. toxicodendron is on all of the meadows and many of the roadsides there.
Leaving these wretched, harmful plants, we may now turn our attention to their near neighbor, the handsome, spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsæmifolium), which is just beginning to unfold its delicate pink-white flower bells. This thin and delicate plant gives us a refreshing bit of sober blue-green in wide contrast with its surroundings. Its leaves are not glossy, but characterized by what a painter would call a “dead finish.” The beautiful flowers, similar in shape to lily of the valleys or twin flowers, are daintily tinged with pink; if we pick a cluster, the stem exudes a sticky, milk white juice. This plant will not reach its prime until July, and then we may hunt through its leaves for the most beautiful little beetle which ever favored the roadside with its presence. This jewel of a creature is called the dogbane beetle (Chrysochus auratus). He is one of the commonest insects of the roadside, but he is so very small (less than half an inch long) that we must not expect to catch sight of him at “long range.” Holding one in the hand and scrutinizing him under the glass, we will find him a variety of brilliant metallic hues, according to the way the light strikes his back, ranging from orange through red to purple, and from violet through blue and peacock- blue to green. I collected as many as a dozen of these beetles last summer from as many dogbane bushes; their beauty and jewel-like brilliancy can only be appreciated by the help of a low-power microscope. A good test of the incomparable finish of Nature’s work is to place beside the beetle a ring set with a ruby. I think the comparison will demonstrate the immeasurable superiority of Nature over man in the capacity of an “art worker.”
The roadside in the month of June is thickly embroidered with still other lusterless but ornamental leaves. We can not proceed a dozen feet along the highway without passing at least two species of clover. The red clover (Trifolium pratense) is that commonest of all kinds, which bears on the face of the leaflet the looplike band of whitish green. It is largely dependent upon the pollen-dusty bumblebee for fertilization; the crimson-red florets have such deep tubes that only the bumblebee with her long tongue succeeds in reaching the nectar in their depths.2 The honeybee is only partially successful; her tongue is too short, and she never attacks a blossom with the burly vigor and dauntless purpose of the bumblebee. The other common species is the white clover (Trifolium repens), none other than the shamrock of Ireland. I have before me as I write a cluster of the tiny leaves which but recently came from the Emerald Isle; they are quite like our own white clover, but smaller. We can hardly claim an American origin for this species, as Gray says it is indigenous only in the Northern part of our range if at all. As for the red clover, that also came to us from Europe. The white clover, which is extremely abundant along the grassy borders of the roads in Vermont and central New Hampshire, rarely grows over four inches high. The sweetest smelling clover I know of is that called alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum), which strongly resembles the white kind, and which is rapidly becoming a familiar object on our highways. It has taller and more erect stems, the flower heads are larger, tinged with flesh pink and rose pink, and it does not take root as the other clovers do at that part of the stem where the leaves branch out. This species also comes from Europe.
In the latter part of June the opening blossoms of the little yellow hop clover (Trifolium agrarium) begin to spot the grassy borders with their delicate color. This rather upright plant would scarcely be taken for a clover, as its trifoliate leaf is the only strongly marked family characteristic. The tiny, pale-yellow blossoms are scarcely larger than one’s thumb nail, and the leaflets are nearly stemless. Hop clover grows from six to twelve inches high and is generally found on the sandy roadside.
One other species is also just beginning to flower; this is the yellow melilot or sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), whose leaves become sweet-scented in drying. It may be distinguished from the foregoing species by the blunt-toothed leaflets growing from pronounced stems. The plant grows from one to two and sometimes four feet high; it is common in waste places. The two yellow clovers also come to us from Europe. Very probably we will see at no great distance from these plants the purple blossoms of the self-heal (Brunella vulgaris), an omnipresent little weed which decorates the roadside from June to October. We can not fail to recognize it during the summer, as it is the only low-growing, common purple wild flower which is in bloom for fully four months of the year.
Adorning the stone wall and crowning the crowded thicket in some moist spot beside the river brink in late June, we will be sure to see the delicate pinkish flowers and arrowhead-shaped leaves of the hedge bindweed (Convolvulus sepium). This remarkable vine twines and trails its wiry stems over everything within reach, and ties up all the fag ends and frayed edges of the roadside foliage in spiral bunches of green and pink beauty. The flowers are so much like morning-glories that we can not fail to recognize them, and the fresh green leaves are among the most beautiful and shining ones of June. Somewhat later, in July, we may have the good luck to find on this vine a little opalescent, golden beetle, called the Cassida aurichalcea, or Coptocycla bicolor; it is scarcely over a quarter of an inch long, and is usually hidden on the under part of the leaf. But once with the beautiful beetle in our hand and under the magic magnifying glass, we realize that we have captured a tiny gem of Nature which has no equal in the jeweler’s window on Broadway. His shell is resplendent gold, but in a few moments it has become milky and appears more like a yellowish opal; then it changes to a greenish yellowish white, and finally, when we look at it again, it is pale rusty gold. But this remarkable gem of a beetle is beautiful only in life; when he dies his color vanishes.
Another splendid and common golden bug is the goldsmith beetle (Cotalpa lanigera), which still later in the season we may succeed in capturing on the under side of a willow leaf; he is about seven eighths of an inch long. This beetle is abroad at night and sometimes ventures in an open door, lured by the brilliant lamplight within; but in daytime he hides himself completely among the clusters of fresh green leaves at the tips of young branchlets. His back is bright yellowish gold, sometimes of a milky tone; beneath he is copper-color, covered with fine whitish hairs.
In a partially shaded spot beside the covered bridge which crosses the shallow mountain stream we may be favored by the sight of many golden flower clusters of the wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), or those of its near relative, the early meadow parsnip (Zizia aurea). In some damp spot near the river — on the meadow perhaps — these tall weeds are sure to appear in June. Their favorite attendant is the black, yellow-spotted butterfly (Papilio asterias),3 sometimes called the “black swallowtail.” This is one of the commonest and prettiest butterflies which visit the roadside flowers. Its wings are marked with a double row of yellow spots; there are also yellow and bluish marks on the hind wings as well, and these are swallow-tail pointed. This butterfly invariably chooses some member of the Parsley family, on the leaves of which it prefers to lay its eggs. The caterpillar is pea-green, naked, and about two inches long.
The monarch, or tawny orange butterfly (Anosia plexippus),4 which is also commonly seen on the highway, whose beautiful wings, measuring four inches across, are bound and veined with black, white-spotted, has a decided preference for members of the milkweed tribe, but not infrequently we find it hovering over the dainty pink blossoms of the dogbane (also a milky juiced plant). However, the common milkweed (Asclepias Cornuti) is its favored plant, and on the upright budding leaves it lays its eggs singly. The caterpillar of this butterfly is black and yellow banded, naked, and nearly two inches long. How handsome this very ordinary milkweed is in sunny June, when its pale-green color is dashed with misty lilac-blue shadows, and its æsthetic brown-lavender flower cluster is accented by the rich coloring on the wings of the monarch butterfly, no one can fail to remark. It is one of those few striking plants which are emphatically decorative under all conditions and in all seasons.
Fluttering over the little puddles on the road which are left after the rain, a half dozen small yellow butterflies appear, dispersing as we approach, but soon returning to continue their dance in midair as soon as our backs are turned; these are the Colias Philodice,5 which in the caterpillar state live on the leaves of the clovers. The caterpillar is an inch long and grass-green; we will generally see it stretched along the stern of a clover leaf. I have drawn the yellow butterfly beside the pretty vista which it might have seen if it had not devoted itself so exclusively to the uninteresting puddle in the middle of the road. The view is of one of the southern Catskill Mountains, called Big Indian, not very far from Shandaken.
The little white butterfly which we may occasionally see is called the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapæ).6 This is the plague of the farmer, for its green caterpillar bores to the heart of his cabbages. The eggs are laid on the under side of the leaves and hatched in about ten days; the caterpillars then feed upon the young green leaves for about twenty days, at the expiration of which time they have gorged sufficient raw cabbage to attain a length of one and a half inches. Then they leave the garden and resort to the rocks or the fence, and spin thereon a tuft of silk in which they place their hind feet; a loop is then spun in which they hang by the neck. After eleven or twelve days have elapsed the green worm has become a white butterfly, ready to begin on the cabbage patch again! I never see a white butterfly without a picture arising in my mind of a certain indignant farmer, who never missed an opportunity of flapping at one with his old gray felt hat, which the butterfly always managed to evade.
One of our largest and most beautiful butterflies is the pale corn-yellow and rusty black one (the upper parts of the wings are marked with four descending black bars), with swallow-tailed wings, called the tiger swallowtail (Papilio turnus)7 This handsome creature frequently measures four and a half inches from one wing tip to the other. It soars even above the trees and takes to the broad expanse of sky as the yellowbird does. The caterpillar lives in the orchard and feeds upon the leaves of the fruit trees, or resorts to the birch, poplar, and ash. It is two inches long, fat and green, with rows of bluish dots and black and yellow markings, and the head and feet are pink-tinged. Early in August this caterpillar tires of life and “hangs” itself in a leaf cradle bound together by silken cords; the following summer it resumes life in the form of a gorgeous velvety winged butterfly. I often see the handsome creature perched on top of the pasture thistle, but according to the rules of entomology I believe it has no right to be there. Yet I understand that the thistle is favored by many broad-winged visitors, chief among which is our yellow friend Colias Philodice.
Those tiny little butterflies, which flit about with an uncertain motion, but a short distance, from one blossom to another, are called “skippers” (Hesperia). They are generally marked and spotted red-brown and yellow, and proceed from small caterpillars which wind themselves up in leaves drawn together by silken threads. The skipper butterfly will scarcely measure an inch across with wings extended; it also frequents the pasture thistle. A very common species is Hesperia Pocahontas (Atrytone zabulon, Scudder), sometimes called the Mormon. Its wings are blackish brown, marked in the center with tawny orange-brown. It is very abundant in early June, and feeds and nests among the roadside grasses.
The leafy month of June is glorious in the absolute purity and diversity of its greens. Look at that shining white-stemmed tree yonder; it is the gray birch, whose pea-green, varnished leaves flash the sunlight through the intervening branches of the brown and rugged pine, until the sparkling color dazzles the eyes. At the farther side of the road is a thicket of speckled alder; its color is deep somber olive. Look at the tips of the red maple near by, and note the pinkish green of the yet immature leaves. Here is a baby red oak; its large leaf is deep olive-green, its budding leaf is bright red. Yonder is a white poplar; how remarkable is its flickering, pale color!
If we are fortunate enough to see the splendid yellowwood (Cladrastis tinctoria) in full bloom toward the end of the month, we will think that it is one of the most beautiful trees of June. No apple tree of May in snowiest array can equal it, for there is little of grace in the gnarled apple, and naught but grace in the yellowwood. So rich is it in nectar, too, that all the insects from the surrounding country congregate in a busy, buzzing, fluttering swarm to gather the fragrant sweet.
Another beautiful tree is the yellow chestnut oak (Quercus Muhlenbergii), whose yellowish green leaves reflect an amber light and cast misty lilac-blue shadows. These are the brilliant colors which the impressionist sees and endeavors to portray on his canvas. It is one thing to paint a well-composed landscape, but it is quite another to paint the vivid sunlight and the emerald foliage of June. What wonder then that the painting which the artist brings directly from sunlit Nature dazzles our eyes! It is a fact that we are too timid to look Nature square in the face when she is decked in her liveliest colors; we are afraid of them, and are in no mood to dance to such lively piping. We like brilliant colors best in tiny bits like those of the green, yellow-spotted beetle (Buprestis fasciata) which I have drawn below; his gorgeous emerald back often decorates the roadside fence, and it is exempt from criticism.
1 Its roots yield a rank poison.
2 The first red clover which was imported into Australia failed to produce seed; the flowers were entirely dependent upon the bumblebee for fertilization, so the insect had to be imported also for this especial purpose.
3 Papilio polyxenes, Scudder.
4 Also called Danais archippus and Danais erippus. Its powers of flight exceed those of any other butterfly. It migrates in autumn and flies southward in swarms as the birds do. The body of this butterfly has a rank odor.
5 Eurymus Philodice, Scudder.
6 First introduced into this country in New York, 1868.
7 Jasoniades glaucus, Scudder.