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The starch grape hyacinth (Muscari racemosum) is sometimes found in grass fields, and among ruins, in this country, but many botanists think that it is not indigenous. The circumstance that a flower is found among ruins, renders it probable that a garden was formerly in the neighbourhood, and that the flower was once cultivated there. This flower is well-known by being so common in gardens. It resembles a bunch of dark purple grapes, and when bruised a quantity of clammy starch-like substance issues from it. The flower has also the odour of wet starch. It has a large bulbous root.
Very nearly allied to the hyacinth is the vernal squill, "(Scilla nutans,) which is now in flower on rocks by the sea-side. It is about four or five inches high, with blue bells and long slender leaves. It is common on the coasts of the northern and western parts of Great. Britain, and frequent in the Orkney and Shetland isles, where the bleak winds are so unfavourable to vegetation that few flowers will flourish. The bulbous root contains a very useful medicine, but as it is also a powerful poison, it should never be taken but under the direction of a medical adviser.
The large greenish yellow blossoms of the two species of wild hellebore now stand out boldly under the hedges. These are the green hellebore, (Helleborus viridus,) and the stinking hellebore, (Helleborus fætidus ;) the latter species is clearly distinguished from the other, by the purple colour at the edge of its green
cup. They have both large leathery leaves, and, as well as the garden hellebores, among which is the Christmas-rose, are extremely poisonous.
The white balls of the guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) now thicken on the shrub, its
“ Silver globes, light as the foaming surf,
Which the wind severs from the broken wave;" being ornamental both to the shrubbery and the hedge-row. These flowers, however, are not so globular in their wild as in their cultivated state, when in the garden ; they contrast with the bloom of the lilac-tree, and well deserve their common name of snowball. The guelder-rose derived its name from having been planted and flourishing profusely in Guelder-land, in the Low Countries; but the plant is a native of almost every country of Europe, and quite common in our wild hedges. The berries are among the most beautiful of our autumnal fruits. They are of an elliptical shape, very juicy and brilliantly red. They have a very nauseous taste, so much so, that one can only wonder how they can be so palatable to the Swedes ; yet the people of Sweden relish them greatly when made into a paste with flour and honey. In Siberia, they are not only eaten thus, but a spirit is distilled from them by fermenting the berries with flour. The young shoots are made into tobacco-pipes and whip-handles.
The box shrub, (Buxus sempervirens,) so well known in its dwarf state as an edging to the garden border, puts forth its green flowers in April. It was formerly used for decking houses ; for in olden times, not only was the Christmas holly placed on the chimney-piece, but every season gave its proper flowers, or shrubs, to adorn the English home. Thus the old poet Herrick records these long-lost customs:
“When yew is out, the birch comes in,
And many flowers beside;
To honour Whitsuntide.
“ Green rushes then, and scented bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
To re-adorn the house."
About this time we may search for the beautiful dark-purple silky stars of the pasque-flower, (Anemone pulsatilla.) It grows on chalky pastures, or on banks, and, sometimes, though more rarely, in woods; and the rare woodanemone, (Anemone ranunculoides,) with its soft yellow flowers, springs up in some few sequestered woods at this season. It has been found in several parts of Kent and Hertfordshire.
Among the most common, and certainly one of the prettiest flowers which we in this month gather from the woodlands, is the wood-sorrel, (Oxalis acetosella, though, unless the spring be forward, we shall not find it till the latter end of the month. While we admire the pencilled beauty of this blossom, we observe too the delicate light green-tripled leaf. We have not a wild flower which can rival the sensitive plant of warmer regions—that plant, the consideration of whose mysterious sensibility, is said to have driven the ancient philosopher to madness,-yet if any British flower might be called a sensitive plant, it is this. Not only does its foliage close and droop at the approach of the evening dews, but at the coming rain, even before the “storm sings i' the wind,” the wood-sorrel compresses its leaves, and even when handled roughly in gathering, it shrinks from the touch. The wood-sorrel grows especially around the trunks of decayed trees. That pleasing poet Charlotte Smith, describes the flower-gatherer,
“ Who from the tumps with bright green mosses clad
Creeping like beaded coral !” The plant is generally most plentiful in the thickest part of the wood.
Wood-sorrel is abundant on the Alps and other mountains, and is found as far to the north of our globe as travellers have ever yet penetrated. In Lapland, it is so plentiful and so much used, that Linnæus says the natives of that country take scarcely any other vegetable food than sorrel and angelica. The great botanist adds, that it is in Norway the primula, or first flower of spring.
The old herbalists had a variety of names for the woodland flower. It was called wood-sower, stubwort, wood trefoil, cuckoo's meat, and alleluya. Gerarde says of it, “ Apothecaries and herbalists call it alleluya and cuckowe's meat ; either because the cuckowe feedeth thereon, or
by reason when it springeth forth the cuckowe singeth most; at which time also alleluya was wont to be sung in our churches.” It is still known both in Spain and Italy by the name of alleluya. It is much used on the continent as a fish-sauce, and was, among our ancestors, in great repute, as the chief ingredient in the
green sauce," which, in former days, always accompanied fish on the table.
The acid flavour of the sorrels, renders them generally palatable to children, and, if taken only in small quantities, they are not pernicious; but no one should, at one time, eat more than a handful of wood-sorrel. The expressed juice of this plant is used to remove spots and ironmoulds from linen. It is also dilated with milk and given as a febrifuge in our English villages, and still more commonly in Russia.
A yellow species of the wood-sorrel (Oxalis corniculata) is occasionally found in shady places, but it is rare. The plant which is most commonly known as sorrel, and which may be seen in any summer meadow, is the field docksorrel, (Rumex acetosa.) It is most abundant on the sandy soil. Its acidity is less than that of the wood-sorrel, and its spikes of dark red flowers often rise above the
may be seen very plainly on the pasture land. The sheep's sorrel, too, (Rumex acetosella,) is scarcely less frequent on open places, and its flowers are similar to those of the field-sorrel, but much smaller. These two sorrels are not in bloom until June and July. They resemble the wood