FlowersVery small purple or pink purple, fragrant, clustered at ends of branches or in leaf axils. Hairy calyx and corolla 2-lipped, the latter with lower lip 3-cleft; stamens 4; style 2-cleft. Leaves: Oblong, opposite, aromatic. Stem: 4 to 12 in. long, creeping, woody, branched, forming dense cushions.
Preferred HabitatRoadsides, dry banks, and waste places.
DistributionNaturalized from Europe. Nova Scotia to Middle States.
” I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows ; Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
According to Danish tradition, any one waiting by an elderbush on Midsummer Night at twelve o’clock will see the king of fairyland and all his retinue pass by and disport themselves in favorite haunts, among others the mounds of fragrant wild thyme. How well Shakespeare knew his folklore!
Thyme is said to have been one of the three plants which made the Virgin Mary’s bed. Indeed, the European peasants have as many myths as there are quotations from the poets about this classic plant. Its very name denotes that it was used as an incense in Greek temples. No doubt it was the Common Thyme (T. vulgaris), an erect, tall plant cultivated in gardens here as a savory, that Horace says the Romans used so extensively for bee culture.
Dense cushions of creeping thyme usually contain two forms of blossoms on separate plantshermaphrodite (male and female), which are much the commoner ; and pistillate, or only female, flowers, in which the stamens develop no pollen. The latter are more fertile ; none can fertilize itself. But blossoms so rich in nectar naturally attract quantities of insectsbees and butterflies chiefly. A newly opened hermaphrodite flower, male on the first day, dusts its visitors as they pass the ripe stamens. This pollen they carry to a flower two days old, which, having reached the female stage, receives it on the mature two-cleft stigma, now erect and tall, whereas the stamens are past maturity.