Downy False Foxglove – Flowers

(Dasystoma flava) Figwort family

(Gerardia flava of Gray)

Flowers–Pale yellow, 1 1/2 to 2 in. long; in showy, terminal, leafybracted racemes. Calyx bell-shaped, 5-toothed; corolla funnel form, the 5 lobes spreading, smooth outside, woolly within; 4 stamens in pairs, woolly; 1 pistil. Stem: Grayish, downy, erect, usually simple, 2 to 4 ft. tall. Leaves : Opposite, lower ones oblong in outline, more or less irregularly lobed and toothed; upper ones small, entire.

Preferred Habitat—Gravelly or sandy soil, dry thickets, open woods.

Flowering Season—July—August.

Distribution—” Eastern Massachusetts to Ontario and Wisconsin, south to southern New York, Georgia, and Mississippi.” (Britton and Brown.)

In the vegetable kingdom, as in the spiritual, all degrees of backsliding sinners may be found, each branded with a mark of infamy according to its deserts. We have seen how the dodder vine lost both leaf and roots after it consented to live wholly by theft of its hard-working host’s juices through suckers that penetrate to the vitals; how the Indian pipe’s blanched face tells the story f guilt perpetrated under cover of darkness in the soil below; how the broom-rape and beech-drops lost their honest green color; and, finally, the foxgloves show us plants with their faces so newly turned toward the path of perdition, their larceny so petty, that only the expert in criminal botany cases condemns them. Like its cousins the gerardias, the downy false foxglove is only a partial parasite, attaching its roots by disks or suckers to the roots of white oak or witch hazel; not only that, but, quite as frequently, groping blindly in the dark, it fastens suckers on its own roots, actually thieving from itself ! It is this piratical tendency which makes transplanting of foxgloves into our gardens so very difficult, even when lifted with plenty of their beloved vegetable mould. The term false foxglove, it should be explained, is by no means one of reproach for dishonesty; it was applied simply to distinguish this group of plants from the true foxgloves cultivated, not wild, here, which yield digitalis to the doctors.

But if these foxgloves live at others’ expense, there are creatures which in turn prey upon them. Caterpillars of a peacock butterfly, known as the buckeye (Junonia coenia), with eye-like spots on its tawny, reddish-gray wings, divide their unwelcome attentions between various species of plantain, the snapdragon in the garden, gerardias, and foxgloves.

The Smooth False Foxglove (D. Virginica)—G. quercifolia of Gray—which delights in rich woods, moist or dry, bears similar, but slightly larger, blossoms on a smooth, usually branched, and taller stem, whose lower leaves especially are much cleft (pinnatifid). This species is commoner South and West, blooming from July to September. All the foxgloves elevate their sticky stigmas to the mouth of their tubes, that the pollen-dusted bumblebee may leave some of the vitalizing dust brought from another flower on its surface before she turns up-side down and enters in this unusual fashion to receive a fresh supply on her way to the nectar in the base of the tube. Her pressure against the pointed anther-tips causes the light, dry pollen to sift out; on the removal of her pressure the gaping chinks close to save it from small bees and flies. It falls out, therefore, only when the bee is in the right position to receive it for export to another foxglove’s stigma. Hairy footholds on anthers and filaments are provided lest the bee fall while reversed and sifting out the pollen.

The Fern-leaved or Lousewort False Foxglove (D. pedicularia)—G pedicularia of Gray—a very leafy species found in dry woods and thickets from the Mississippi and Ontario eastward to the Atlantic, north and south, has all its leaves once or twice pinnatifid, the lobes much cut and toothed. It is a rather sticky, hairy, slender, and much-branched plant, growing from one to four feet tall; the broad, trumpet-shaped, yellow flower, which is sticky outside, measures an inch or an inch and a half long, and is some-times almost as wide across. The most abundant visitor, and the one for which the flower is most perfectly adapted,” says Professor Robertson, “is Bombus Americanorum. This bee always turns head downwards on entering the flower. When it enters, or backs out, the basal joints of its legs strike the tips of the anther-cells, when the pollen falls out. I had often wondered why this bee turned upside down to enter the flower. . . . I discovered that the form of the flower requires it. The modification which requires the bees to reverse is associated with the peculiar mode of pollen discharge. Smaller bumblebees and some other bees which never or rarely try to suck hang under the anthers and work out the pollen by striking the trigger-like awns. They reverse of their own accord, since they are so small they are not compelled to do so on account of the form of the flower. The tube is large . . . so that most bumblebee workers could easily reach the nectar if the tube were not curved in the opposite direction from that of most flowers, and if the anthers did not obstruct the entrance.” Sometimes small bees, despairing of getting into the tube through the mouth, suck at holes in the flower’s sides, be-cause legitimate feasting was made too difficult for the poor little things. The ruby-throated humming bird, hovering a second above the tube, drains it with none of the clown-like performances exacted from the bumblebee. Pilfering ants find death as speedy on the sticky surfaces here as on any catchfly.