Gateway to the Classics: Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella B. Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by  Arabella B. Buckley

The Dead-Nettle and the Pea-Flower

When a bee goes in search of honey, there is one plant she is very glad to find. This is the Dead-nettle. She does not mind whether it has white or purple flowers. She knows that unless some other bee has been there before her she will find some honey.

There are generally plenty of dead-nettles to be found, for their leaves do not taste nice, and they look so like stinging-nettles that very few animals will eat them.

The real nettle has only small green flowers, while the dead-nettle has clusters of red or white blossoms growing all round the stem, just above each pair of leaves. These flowers are shaped like helmets, and they have a broad lip hanging down in front, which has a deep notch in the middle.


A. Flower of the Dead-nettle;  B. Flower Cut in Half

The stem of the plant is not round, like the stems of most plants. It is square with four sides. By this you may always know it from a stinging-nettle, even when it is not in flower. The coarse leaves grow opposite to each other, and each pair grows across the one below it, as we saw in Lesson II.

Now let us look at the flower. You had better take a white dead-nettle, as the flowers are large. Take hold of the helmet and pull it very gently. It will come off, leaving the green cup with its five points. But most likely you will have brought away the long tube with sticky horns, which grows out of the seed-box, for it comes off very easily.

If you have, try another flower, and tear the helmet open very carefully. Then you will see that at the bottom of the cup there are four little seed-boxes, like nuts, with a long tube standing right up in the middle of them. It has two sticky horns.

Now look inside another flower. You will find four stamens growing on the crown, and two of them are so long that they reach right up into the hood. Before you pulled the hood off the sticky horns were close to them. At the bottom of the tube there is plenty of honey, but creeping insects cannot get it, for there is a thick fringe of hairs in the tube to keep them away.

But when the bee comes for honey, she pushes her trunk through the hairs, and as she sucks she brushes the dust out of the bags. Then she goes to another flower and leaves it on the sticky horns. There are a great many flowers with lips like the dead-nettle. Mint, Sage, Balm, Thyme, Peppermint, Lavender, Rosemary, and the pretty blue and white bugle flowers in the hedges are all lipped—you will know them by their square stems, opposite leaves, and the four little seed-boxes.

In Sage plants the anthers swing on a bar. The bee hits her head against the lower end, which is empty, and the full dust-bag comes down on her back.


Bees in Meadow-sage

Another flower which the bee loves is the Pea. There again she is sure to find honey. In the kitchen garden on a fine morning you will see the bees buzzing along the rows of peas and beans, and only stopping to poke their heads into the flowers.

Get a pea-flower and let us see how they do it. Hold the flower facing you. At the back is one large petal, with a deep dent in the middle. This stands up like a flag to tell the bee where to come for honey. So it is called the "standard." Two smaller petals are folded together, just below it. These are called "wings." Between these wings are two more petals, which are joined together like the end of a boat. These are called the "keel."

If you take hold of the wings, and pull them gently down, you will find they bring the keel with them. Then you will see the dust-bags of ten stamens and the sticky beak of the tiny pea-pod. These were hidden before in the keel.


Pea-flower and Section

If you pick the flower to pieces, you will see why the keel came down. Inside each wing there is a knob, which fits into a hollow in the side of the keel. Is not this curious? When the bee settles on the wings, she presses them down with her weight. They press down the keel, and the dust-bags knock against the breast of the bee. So she goes away to the next flower covered with pollen-dust.

There are almost as many flowers like the pea as there are like the dead-nettle. The beautiful yellow Gorse, the little Trefoil, and all the Vetches in the hedges belong to this family. So do the sweet Clovers which we grow for clover hay. Each head of clover is a cluster of tiny flowers shaped like a pea.

Then in the flower garden ee have the Laburnum, and in the kitchen garden the Scarlet-runners and the Broad Beans.

Examine a dead-nettle, mint, thyme, and meadow-sage. Notice the curious swinging anther of the meadow-sage. Also a pea blossom, gorse blossom, tare, and bird's-foot trefoil.

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