Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/201

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189
AMERICAN CINQUE-FOILS.

AMERICAN CINQUE-FOILS.
By GRANT ALLEN.

YOUR American cinque-foils are to me a deeply interesting set of plants. Excuse, I beg of you, dear Mr. Reader, this abrupt beginning. I love a causerie: I love to button-bole my audience, as it were, and, sitting down with it mentally on a bowlder in the meadow, to discuss the matter in hand with it tête-à-tête, as if we two were old friends, which I trust, after all, may be really the truth with the public of "The Popular Science Monthly" on the present occasion. For, indeed, a recent visit to America has made me realize you all far better than I ever did before; it has made me feel your individuality as I never hitherto felt it; and it has also renewed with me the acquaintance of many dear old floral favorites whose faces I bad not seen in earnest for many a long and weary year. Among them, the cinque-foils or potentillas are, it is true, but a feeble folk; very different from the glorious orange lilies, and trilliums, and Solomon's-seals, whose bulbs and tubers I have brought home with me to beautify a little out-of-the-way Surrey garden; but still in their own humble fashion most interesting plants, from the implications as to their past history and transformations legibly written by the hand of Nature upon their very faces. I propose, therefore (having got you now fairly button-holed), to discourse somewhat concerning the American potentillas themselves, as well as concerning certain of their near and dear relations not included in the same genus by the artificial and unwise arrangements of our existing botany.

The first potentilla I found in America was by chance the very one that ought naturally to head the tribe in any systematic work, because it is the one which more than any other seems to preserve in the greatest simplicity the original traits of the prime ancestor. And when we consider that from this ancestor are also descended (in all likelihood) the plum, the peach, the cherry, the almond, the apple, the pear, the strawberry, the raspberry, the rose, and the hawthorn, it must immediately be apparent to the meanest understanding that the plant in question deserves the greatest consideration at our hands as the founder of a large and important family. Nevertheless, this rather scrubby weed (Potentilla Norwegica) with its yellow flowers and hairy stem, much resembles the founders of many other distinguished families in being personally mean, sordid, and inconspicuous. But in spite of its meanness, the Norway potentilla shows many signs of its high respectability as the representative of the elder branch of the family in the direct line. To begin with, its blossoms are a shabby yellow; and shabby yellow I take to have been the original color in every instance of the earliest petals of insect-fertilized flowers. Then, again, it is an annual