Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Cultivated Plants by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Cultivated Plants by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Bachelor's Button

Teacher's Story

This beautiful garden flower gives a variation in form from other composites when studied according to Lesson CXXXV. This valued garden flower came to us from Europe and it sometimes escapes cultivation and runs wild in a gentle way. We call it bachelor's button; but in Europe it is called the cornflower, and under this name it found its way into literature. None of the flowers that live in families repays close study better than does the bachelor's button. The ray-flowers are tubular but they do not have banners. Their tubes flare open like trumpets, and they are indeed color trumpets heralding to the insect world that there is nectar for the probing and pollen for exchange. Looked at from above, the ray-flowers do not seem tubular; from the sides, they show as uneven-mouthed trumpets with lobed edges; but though we search each trumpet to its slender depths we can find no pistils. These ray-flowers have no duty in the way of maturing seeds. In some varieties the ray-flowers are white, and in others they are blue and purple. They vary in number from 7 to 14, or more.


A bachelor's button.
Note the trumpet-shape of the ray-flowers.

Photo by Cyrus Crosby.

The disk-flowers have a long corolla-tube, which is white and delicately lobed and is enlarged toward the upper end to a purple bulb with five, long, slender lobes. The anther-tube is purplish black, and is bent into almost a hook, the tip opening toward the middle of the flower-head. The pollen is glistening white tinged with yellow, and looks very pretty as it bursts out from the dark tubes. The purple stigma first appears with its tips close together, but with a pollen brush just below it; later it opens into a short Y. The buds at the center of the flower are bent hook-shaped over the center of the flower-head. The involucral bracts or "shingles" are very pretty, each one ornamented with a scaly fringe; they form a long, elegantly shaped base to the flower-head. After the flowers have gone and the seeds have ripened, these bracts flare open, making a wide-mouthed urn from which the ripened seeds are shaken by the winds; and after the seeds are gone, the white fuzz of their empty cases remains at the bottom of the urn. The seed is plump and shining, with a short fringe of pappus around the top and a contracted place at one side near the base where it grew fast to the receptacle; for these seeds are not set on end, as are those of the sunflower. The short pappus is hardly sufficient to buoy up the seed, and yet undoubtedly aids it to make a flying jump with the passing breeze.


Stigma open and showing pollen-brush below.   Enlarged.

Lesson CLXI

The Bachelor's Button

Leading thought— Each bachelor's button is made up of many little flowers which may be studied by the outline given in Lesson CXXXV.

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