« PreviousContinue »
blossoms of the hepatica, are already putting forth their buds; and the laurustinus, so plentiful in the south of Europe, is almost as common in our gardens as in the wild hedges there.
Not more than three or four kinds of wild flowers can be found, even as occasional visitants of the English field, at this season. southern counties, indeed—in the warm and moist climate of Devonshire, for example-a few flowers, elsewhere considered as belonging to the spring, are in bloom in winter. Thus Carrington speaks of our vernal blossom, as the flower “ that cheers Devonia's fields,” and
“ In her maternal clime,
By all who live.” The daisy that “never dies," is the flower which we are most likely to find on a January day, when the sun has melted the snow from
In the north of England, this blossom is distinguished from the large ox-eye daisy, by the name of dog-daisy; from a nation that a decoction of its juice, if given to young dogs, prevented their growth. The simple daisy was once a flower of great renown, and was called in England, either herb Margaret, or Day's-eye; and it still bears the name of Marguerite, in France. It was the device of the unfortunate Margaret of Anjou, and when that queen was in prosperity, her nobles wore it in wreaths in their hair, or had it embroidered on their robes. That noble-minded woman Mar
garet of Valois--the friend of Erasmus and of Calvin---she who could retire from the admiration and glitter of courts, to study her Bible and her own heart-she too had the daisy-flower worn in her honour, and was called by her brother Francis 1., his "Marguerite of Marguerites.”
The daisy grows in fields throughout Europe, and is as common in the Italian meadows as in
The children of Italy gather it as an early favourite, and call it Pratolina, (meadow flower.)
But leaving the daisy-which, after all, is rather the occasional blossom of the winter mead, than its accustomed ornament--we may wander to the heath-land, to search for the winterfurze, or gorse, (Ulex nanus,) when this low and prickly shrub is covered with golden flowers, which defy the winter frost. This species is of much lower growth than the common gorse, (Ulex Europæus.) On the latter, indeed, we sometimes espy a bright blossom in winter, and it is described as “the never bloomless furze;" but the peculiarity of the dwarf furze, is, that it exhibits its flowers solely in the autumnal and winter months, beginning to blossom in August, and remaining in full beauty till the end of January. It is very similar to the common species, but not nearly so general. It often grows on high lands, and the Pentland hills are covered with the mountain gorses,
“They whom God preserveth still,
Set as lights upon a hill:
The grass lands look less beautiful in December and January than in any other months. As soon as February has commenced, the leaves of several spring plants unfold, and trail over the hedge-bank, or shoot among the grass, and the verdure begins to show a gradual increase. But the January grass is almost stationary, and, if we are to believe the old proverb, it ought not to grow at all during the month.
“If the grass grows in Janiveer,
It grows the worse for it all the year.”
The fact is, that a premature spring is injurious, not only to pasture land, but to vegetation generally
The common chickweed (Stellaria media) is another little blossom which may be found in this early month, when the snow is off the ground. It is too commonly gathered for the tame bird to need any description. Its small white flowers may be seen, on richly cultivated lands, at almost any season. Our song birds, especially the tribe of finches, are much indebted to this plant for food; as they eat, not only its numerous seeds, but its young tops and leaves.
Thus small is January's wreath! The trees, as yet, are leafless; but the shining dark buds of the horse-chestnut promise us a speedy foliage. One would wonder where the little birds found shelter, but the sparrow is twitting. still, and the robin, though silent during the frost, will have a merry song to greet us on a
mild day. The thrush is commencing his tune ; the storm, or missel thrush, sings loudly from the mistletoe ; the wren unites her voice; and that sweetest of birds, the lark, is far up in the blue sky, pouring out a strain of melody from a joyful heart.
But we cannot, in noticing the vegetation of January, omit the holly and the mistletoe ; for though their flowers are not now in bloom, yet they are so much more noticeable from their berries than their blossoms, that they seem to belong to the winter. The holly (Ilex aquifolium) intersperses its dark, leathery leaves, sharp with spines, among the bare branches of many a hedge-row. Whole forests and woods of this beautiful evergreen, flourish in several parts of our country; and some fine spots of clustering hollies may be seen in Medwood Park, in Staffordshire. This plant was once called scarlet oak; and our present word, holly, is a corruption of holy-tree, by which name it was formerly known, on account of its old use in decking churches at Christmas time. In many parts of England it is very common in the hedges; and Carrington, among the other plants of Dartmoor, notices
"The holly pointing to the moorland storm,
Its hardy fearless leaf.” The flowers of this shrub appear in April. They are white, and look as if cut out of
The holly wood, which is very hard and white, is used by turners ; and the boxes and
screens on which paintings are so often made, are formed of it. In the pretty Tunbridgeware, which is ingeniously made of various woods, the hoily is extensively used. The viscous substance found in the bark, is used for birdlime; and the tough leaves afford food for the caterpillars of one of our loveliest butterflies--the azure blue insect, which is known to naturalists as the Papilio Argiolas.
The silvery modest mistletoe (Viscum album) cheers the wood, and with the holly adorns our houses. The Druids, probably, first used these plants as the indoor winter ornament; and we dress our houses now, because the custom reminds us of the olden days; and on the same principle
" As the ear
We use the mistletoe chiefly at Christmas ; but, even a few centuries ago, its branches were carried about from house to house, on the first day of January, by young men and maidens, as a new year's gift of friendship; and to the present time; the French preserve a relic of this practice. Our forefathers, at a very early period, cherished the mistletoe as a plant which, when gathered with some superstitious rites, would cure disease, avert the influences of the evil eye, and preserve from many dangers; and earlier still, when our country lay in all the darkness and ignorance of Druidical superstition, this plant was reverenced and almost worshipped, and associated with practices at