Partridge Vine – Flowers

(Mitchella repens) Madder family

Flowers—Waxy, white (pink in bud), fragrant, growing in pairs at ends of the branches. Calyx usually 4-lobed; corolla funnel-form, about in. long, the 4 spreading lobes bearded Within; 4 stamens inserted on corolla throat; 1 style with 4 stigmas; the ovaries of the twin flowers united. (The style is Iong when the stamens are short, or vice versa). Stem : Slender, trailing, rooting at joints, 6 to 12 in. long, with numerous erect branches. Leaves: Opposite, entire, short petioled, oval or rounded, evergreen, dark, sometimes white veined. Fruit: A small, red, edible, double berry-like drupe.

Preferred Habitat—Woods; usually, but not always, dry ones.

Flowering Season—April—June. Sometimes again in autumn.

Distribution—Nova Scotia to the Gulf States, westward to Minnesota and Texas.

A carpet of these dark, shining, little evergreen leaves, spread at the foot of forest trees, whether sprinkled over in June with pairs of waxy, cream-white, pink-tipped, velvety, lilac-scented flowers that suggest attenuated arbutus blossoms, or with coral-red “berries” in autumn and winter, is surely one of the loveliest sights in the woods. Transplanted to the home garden in closely packed, generous clumps, with plenty of leaf-mould, or, better still, chopped spagnum, about them, they soon spread into thick mats in the rockery, the hardy fernery, or about the roots of rhododendrons and the taller shrubs that permit some sunlight to reach them. No woodland creeper rewards our care with greater luxuriance of growth. Growing near our homes, the partridge vine offers an excellent opportunity for study.

The two flowers at the tip of a branch may grow distinct down to their united ovaries, or their tubes may be partly united, like Siamese twins—a union which in either case accounts for the odd shape of the so-called berry, that shows further traces of consolidation in its “two eyes,” the remnants of eight calyx teeth. Experiment proves that when only one of the twin flowers is pollenized by insects (excluded from the other one by a net), fruit is rarely set; but when both are, a healthy seeded berry follows. To secure cross-fertilization, the partridge flower, like the bluets (see p. 62), occurs in two different forms on distinct plants, seed from either producing after its kind. In one form the style is low within the tube, and the stamens protrude; in the other form the stamens are concealed, and the style, with its four spreading stigmas, is exserted. No single flower matures both its reproductive organs. Short-tongued small bees and flies cannot reach the nectar reserved for the blossom’s benefactors because of the hairs inside the tube, which nearly close it; but larger bees and butterflies coming to suck a flower with tall stamens receive pollen on the precise spot on their long tongues that will come in contact with the sticky stigmas of the long-styled form visited later, and there rub the pollen off. The lobes’ velvety surface keeps insect feet from slipping.

What endless confusion arises through giving the same popular folk names to different species! The Bob White, which is called quail in New England or wherever the ruffed grouse is known as partridge, is called partridge in the Middle and Southern States, where the ruffed grouse is known as pheasant. But as both these distributing agents, like most winter rovers, whether bird or beast, are inordinately fond of this tasteless partridge berry, as well as of the spicy fruit of quite another species, the aromatic wintergreen, which shares with it a number of common names, every one may associate whatever bird and berry that best suit him. The delicious little twin-flower, beloved of Linnaeus, also comes in for a share of lost identity through confusion with the partridge vine.