Butter-and-eggs, Flaxweed – Flowers

Yellow Toad-flax ; Eggs-and-bacon ; Flaxweed ; Brideweed

(Linaria Linaria) Figwort family

(L. vulgaris of Gray)

Flowers—Light canary yellow and orange, 1 in. long or over, irregular, borne in terminal, leafy-bracted spikes. Corolla spurred at the base, 2-lipped, the upper lip erect, 2-lobed ; the lower lip spreading, 3-lobed, its base an orange-colored palate closing the throat ; 4 stamens in pairs within ; 1 pistil. Stem : 1 to 3 ft. tall, slender, leafy. Leaves : Pale, grass-like.

Preferred Habitat—Waste land, roadsides, banks, fields.

Flowering Season—June—October.

Distribution—Nebraska and Manitoba, eastward to Virginia and Nova Scotia. Europe and Asia.

An immigrant from Europe, this plebeian perennial, meekly content with waste places, is rapidly inheriting the earth. Its beautiful spikes of butter-colored cornucopias, apparently holding the yolk of a diminutive Spanish egg, emit a cheesy odor, suggesting a close dairy. Perhaps half the charm of the plant consists in the pale bluish-green grass-like leaves with a bloom on the surface, which are put forth so abundantly from the sterile shoots. (See blue toad-flax, p. 52.)

Guided by the orange palate pathfinder to where the curious, puzzling flower opens, the big velvety bumblebee alights, his weight depressing the lower lip until a comfortable entrance through the gaping mouth is offered him. In he goes, and his long tongue readily reaches the nectar in the deep spur, while his back brushes off pollen from the stamens in his way overhead. Then he backs out, and the gaping mouth springs shut after him—for the linaria is akin to the snapdragon in the garden. As its stamens are of two lengths, the flower is able to fertilize itself in stormy weather, insects failing to transfer its pollen. To drain ten of these spurs a minute is no difficult task for the bumblebee. But how slowly, painfully, the little light-weight hive-bees and leaf-cutters squeeze in between the tight lips ! An occasional butterfly inserts its long, thin tongue, and, without transferring a grain of pollen for the flower, robs it of sweets clearly intended for the bumblebee alone. Even when ants—the worst pilferers extant—succeed in entering, they cannot reach the nectar, owing to the hairy stockade bordering the groove where it runs. Beetles, out for pollen, also occasionally steal an entrance, if nothing more. Grazing cattle let the plant alone to ripen seed in peace, for it secretes disagreeable juices in its cells—juices that were once mixed with milk by farmers’ wives to poison flies.