Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Pearly Everlasting

Teacher's Story

These wraithlike flowers seem never to have been alive, rather than to have been endowed with everlasting life. The cattle share this opinion and would no sooner eat these plants than if they were made of cotton batting. The stems are covered with white felt; the long narrow leaves are very pale green, and when examined with a lens, look as if they were covered with a layer of cotton which disguises all venation except the thick midrib. The leaves are set alternate, and become shorter and narrower and whiter toward the top of the plant, where they are obliged to give their sustenance to the flower stems borne in their axils. All this cottony covering has its uses to prevent the evaporation of water from the plant during the long droughts. The everlasting never has much juice in its leaves but what it has, it keeps.


The pistillate flower-heads of the pearly everlasting.

Photo by Verne Morton.

The flower stems are rather stout, woolly, soft and pliable. They come off at the axils of the threadlike whitish leaves. The pistillate and the staminate flowers are borne on separate plants, and usually in separate patches. The pistillate, or seed-developing, plants have globular flower buds, almost egg-shaped, with a fluffy lemon-yellow knob at the tip; this fluff is made up of stigmas split at the end. At the center of this tassel of lemon-yellow stigma-plush, may often be seen a depression; at the bottom of this well, there are three or four perfect flowers. One of the secrets of the everlasting is, evidently, that it does not put all of its eggs in one basket; it has a few perfect flowers for insurance. This pistillate or seed-bearing flower has a long, delicate tube, ending in five needlelike points and surrounded by a pretty pappus. The bracts of the flower-cluster seem to cling around the base of the beautiful yellow tassel of fertile flowers, as if to emphasize it. They look as if they were made of white Japanese paper, and when looked at through a lens, they resemble the petals of a water lily. They are dry to begin with, so they cannot wither.


1. Pistillate floret,
2. pappus,
3. staminate floret.

All enlarged.

The staminate, or pollen-bearing, flower-heads are like white birds' nests, the white bracts forming the nest and the little yellow flowers the eggs. The flower has a tubular, five-pointed starlike corolla, with five stamens joined in a tube at the middle, standing up like a barrel from the corolla. The anther-tube is ocher-yellow with brown stripes, and is closed at first with five little flaps, making a cone at the top. Later, the orange-yellow pollen bulges out as if it were boiling over. The flowers around the edges of the flower-disk open first.


The staminate flower-head of pearly everlasting.

Lesson CXLIV

The Pearly Everlasting

Leading thought—There are often found growing on the poor soil in dry pastures, clumps of soft, whitish plants which are never eaten by cattle. There is so little juice in them that they retain their form when dried and thus have won their name.

Method—The pupils should see these plants growing, so that they may observe the staminate and pistillate flowers, which are on separate plants and in separate clumps. If this is not practicable, bring both kinds of flowers into the schoolroom for study.


1. Where does the pearly everlasting grow? Do cattle eat it? Why is this? What is the general color of the plant? What is the stem covered with?

2. What is the shape of the leaves? How are they veined? With what are they covered? How are they placed on the stem? What is the relative size of the lower and upper leaves? Why is there a difference?

3. Do you see some plants which have egg-shaped blossoms, each with a yellow knob at the tip? Take one apart and look at it with a lens, and see what forms the white part and what forms the yellow knob. Do you see other flowers that look like little white birds' nests filled with yellow eggs? Look at one of them with a lens, and tell what kind of a flower it is.

4. Except that the pistillate and staminate flowers are on different plants, the flowers of the pearly everlasting should be studied according to Lesson CXXXV.

5. What do you know of the edelweiss of the Alps? How does it resemble the pearly everlasting? Do you know another common kind of everlasting called pussy's toes?

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