Two Surprises in the Green Forest
The Hepatica and Saxifrage
"D EE, dee, dee, chickadee! Where are you going in such a hurry, Peter Rabbit?" cried a merry voice, as Peter was scampering down the Lone Little Path to reach the edge of the Green Forest on his way to the dear Old Briar-patch to tell Mrs. Peter the good news.
Peter stopped abruptly. "Hello, Tommy Tit!" he cried. "I've just made the most wonderful discovery. I've found the first sure sign that Mistress Spring is on her way and will soon be here."
Tommy Tit the Chickadee flitted down to a twig just above Peter's head. "Is that so, Peter?" he cried, pretending to be very much surprised. "Is that so? What is it?"
"I've found flowers in bloom!" cried Peter. "Yes, sir, I've found flowers in bloom. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen them with my own eyes."
Tommy Tit's bright little eyes twinkled. "What flowers are they, and where are they?" he asked.
"They are the flowers of the Skunk Cabbage, and they are in those funny little brown-and-green hoods down by the spring in the swamp!" cried Peter, and looked at Tommy as if he expected him to be greatly surprised.
"Dee, dee, dee! Do you call those flowers?" demanded Tommy rather scornfully.
"Certainly they are flowers," replied Peter rather sharply. "What is more, they are the very first flowers of the year. I think it is the most wonderful thing I've ever heard of that they are actually blooming now before the snow has gone."
Tommy Tit began to chuckle.
"What are you laughing at?" demanded Peter.
"To see you so excited over something I have known about for a long time," replied Tommy Tit. "I suppose those really are flowers, but I don't think much of them myself. They do come first of all, but they are not much ahead of some real flowers, flowers worth seeing. I saw some of the latter only a few moments ago, and they certainly did my eyes good."
Peter sat up very straight and stared very hard at Tommy Tit. "Do you mean to tell me that there are other flowers in bloom now?" he demanded. "I don't believe it, Tommy Tit."
Again Tommy Tit chuckled. "Peter," said he, "for a fellow who has lived in the Green Forest and on the Green Meadows as long as you have, you don't know much. No, sir, you don't know much. There are other flowers in bloom right this minute in the Green Forest, and I suspect that if I went to look for them I could find some right out on the Green Meadows, if there are any places where the snow has melted away. It doesn't make a bit of difference to me if you don't believe what I have told you. But if you will run up on the hillside back there and use your eyes as they were meant to be used, you will find some of the dearest, sweetest, bravest little flowers of all the year. I just love them. I watch for them every spring, and when I see them I know that winter is really over. Good-by, Peter." Before Peter could say another word Tommy Tit had flown away.
Peter was of two minds, as the saying is. He wanted to hurry home to tell Mrs. Peter of his wonderful discovery, and he wanted to go up on that hillside to see if Tommy Tit had told the truth. Somehow he just couldn't believe it. Then, too, his pride was hurt. He couldn't bear to think that he didn't know all there was to know. He started on towards home, but he only made a few hops before he stopped. Curiosity would not let him go on. Suddenly he turned and away he went, lipperty-lipperty-lip, for that hillside.
When Peter reached the foot of the hill he began to go up slowly. Snow lay in big patches all over it. "Of course," said Peter to himself, "those flowers will be where the snow has been melted longest." So he picked out the largest open spot and carefully hopped back and forth all over it. But all he found was a carpet of dead, brown leaves. Then he visited the next largest open spot with the same result. So he went from open spot to open spot until he had visited all of any size. Not a sign of a flower had he seen.
At last he sat down to rest. He was disappointed. Yes, sir, he was disappointed. "I don't believe Tommy Tit saw any flowers at all," muttered Peter. "No, sir, I don't believe he saw a single flower. He was jealous. He was jealous and he just made up that story. I'll rest a few minutes and then I'll hurry home to the dear Old Briar-patch."
Now right in front of Peter was one of the smallest open places on that hillside. It was so small that he hadn't thought it worth looking at. But as he sat there, his eyes just happened to rest on that little bare space in front of him. Suddenly Peter blinked and sat up very straight. Then he blinked two or three times more and gave a little gasp of surprise and unbelief. Right in the middle of that little bare space, standing bravely up above the dead, brown leaves, was something that looked very much like a flower! Yes, sir, it did so.
Peter jumped off the snow and hopped over to it. His face wore such a funny expression. Unbelief struggled with belief. But Peter knows that if he cannot believe his eyes he cannot believe anything. There under his very nose was the daintiest of little starlike flowers, a little lavender blossom bravely smiling up at him.
"Oh!" cried Peter under his breath. Then for a long time he simply sat there gazing at that little flower without saying a word.
It was a Hepatica. It was about four inches high at the top of a woolly-looking stem, for that stem was covered with tiny fine hairs. Beside it, not yet ready to open, was a bud, and Peter saw at once that this also was covered with fine hairs and that it hung bent over. Though Peter didn't know it, this was to protect it from storms. Looking down, Peter saw other buds just starting up from the middle of a cluster of queer-shaped leathery-looking leaves. Some were green and some were purplish, and all lay almost flat.
Somewhat hesitatingly Peter stretched out his wobbly little nose and sniffed at that little blossom. "Why, it has a sweet smell!" he exclaimed.
"Have you just found that out?" asked a voice behind Peter. There was Tommy Tit, his small black eyes twinkling down at Peter.
"Yes," Peter owned up truthfully. "I remember seeing Hepaticas every spring, though I didn't know they came so early; but I hadn't noticed that they had any smell at all."
"Some don't," replied Tommy Tit. "Some, like this, are sweet-scented, and others have no scent at all. Even the sweet-scented ones lose that scent when they become old."
"I didn't know Hepaticas were this color, either," said Peter.
"Many of them are not," replied Tommy Tit. "Some are white and some are pinkish and others are almost blue."
"You seem to know all about them," said Peter a little enviously.
"Oh, no, I don't know all about them," replied Tommy. "But I've used my eyes and know some things. Do you know that they close at night?"
Peter's eyes opened very wide. "No," said he. "Do they?"
Tommy Tit nodded his black-capped little head vigorously. "Yes, sir," said he. "They even close on dark days. That is, they do until they get so old that they have begun to fade. Hello, it is beginning to snow! Just as if we hadn't had snow enough for one year! I think I'll get under cover."
So Tommy Tit flew away and left Peter sitting there, still staring at that little flower. Peter didn't mind a little snow. He knew it wouldn't amount to much, and somehow he didn't want to leave just yet. So he sat there looking at the brave little Hepatica. Presently he made a discovery that caused him to squeal right out. That little blossom was slowly closing. It didn't like the snow. Besides, it had grown quite dark. Slowly the little blossom closed and then Peter saw that its outer covering was overgrown with little fine hairs just as was the covering of the buds. "Why!" said Peter to himself, "the Hepaticas have regular little fur coats to keep them warm."
What Peter didn't find out until long afterward was that these same little hairs serve quite another purpose. They keep the ants and other crawling insects from climbing up and stealing the sweet juice which is called nectar, and which is hidden in the heart of each flower.
Another thing that Peter didn't learn until long afterward is that the colored parts which look like petals are not petals but are what are called sepals. The Hepatica has no true petals.
Finally Peter decided that nothing more was to be learned by sitting there, and once more he started for the dear Old Briar-patch, lipperty-lipperty-lip. He had so much to tell Mrs. Peter that it seemed to him he couldn't get home soon enough. "Flowers are wonderful. They truly are wonderful," thought Peter, as he scampered along. "I didn't know they were interesting at all. But they are, and I am going to find out all I can about as many of them as I can. Here it is early March and winter not yet really gone, and already I have found two kinds of flowers in bloom. I wonder what the next one will be."
It was a week before Peter got back to that hillside in the Green Forest. By that time all the snow had melted. That first brave little Hepatica had faded, but here and there all over that hillside were other little groups of Hepaticas. And Peter found that what Tommy Tit had told him was true; some were pink, and some were white, and some were a lavender which was almost blue, and some were sweet-scented, and some had no scent at all. But all were beautiful. "I love them," whispered Peter to himself. "I just love them. Now I know that sweet Mistress Spring is almost here."
Peter climbed up to the top of the hill. It was rocky up there. Peter likes to climb among the rocks sometimes. He didn't think of flowers up there, and so when he discovered a little cluster of tiny white, five-pointed, starlike flowers with yellow centers, growing, as it seemed, out of the very rock on which he sat, it is a question whether he was more surprised than delighted.
The stem was about four inches high and Peter looked at once to see if it also were covered with tiny hairs. It was. What is more, those tiny hairs were somewhat sticky. The stems sprang from the middle of a rosette of small, smooth, oval leaves with scalloped edges growing very close to the ground. It was then that he discovered that this little plant was not growing out of the rock, as at first glance it had seemed to be. There was a little crack in the rock filled with earth, and it was out of this that the plant was growing.
Peter looked all about. "I wish Tommy Tit was here," said he right out loud.
"Why?" demanded a very small voice. "I don't wish he was here."
Peter looked this way and that way, but could see no one.
"Where are you?" he demanded somewhat crossly. Just then he happened to glance at that cluster of tiny flowers. There, at work getting nectar from them, was a very small member of the Bee family. "Oh, excuse me!" exclaimed Peter.
The little Bee kept right on working. "What do you want of Tommy Tit?" she demanded.
"I want him to tell me what kind of a plant this is," replied Peter.
"It's the Saxifrage, the Early Saxifrage. I thought everybody knew Saxifrage when they saw it," snapped the little Bee, keeping right on with her work.
"Isn't this a queer place for it to be growing?" asked Peter rather timidly.
"No, it isn't," retorted the little Bee. "It would be queer for it to be growing anywhere else. The Saxifrage loves the rocks. That is where you will always find it. They do say that people used to believe that it could split rocks and that is how it came by its name. Of course it can't do anything of the kind. That is all nonsense. But it does love to grow in little cracks like this one. That is where I always look for it. I'm very fond of the Saxifrage, because it comes when there are so few other flowers. Now I must go look for some more."
Away flew the busy little Bee and left Peter to think over the new knowledge he had gained.